Frontline Initiative Workforce Development

Training Frontline Supervisors Improve Recruitment and Retention of DSPs

It is well known that there is a national Direct Support Professional (DSP) workforce crisis. People with disabilities and the community human service employers that support them are struggling to find and keep committed, competent, and caring DSPs. Part of the solution to this crisis is finding better ways to recruit, train, and retain DSPs. To help address this problem, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) funded a three-year grant project at the Research and Training Center on Community Living (RTC) at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration. The project was designed to create a “train-the-trainer” and technical assistance model to help community human service employers address the DSP workforce crisis. RTC was selected to receive the grant because it has conducted several research projects on DSP workforce development interventions across the country, and it has a proven track record of sharing successful workforce development interventions and strategies.

Five community human service employers were selected to participate in the project, called the National Training Institute for Frontline Supervisors and Technical Assistance Project (NTIFFS) —

  1. New Horizons Resources, Inc. of New York
  2. Bancroft NeuroHealth and Devereux of New Jersey
  3. Orange Grove Center of Tennessee
  4. Potomac Center, Inc. of West Virginia
  5. Southwest Wyoming Rehab Center, CES and RENEW of Wyoming

Three staff members from each participating agency were identified and agreed to participate in all project activities. These “change agents” were responsible for facilitating change within their agency and sharing what they learn with other community human service employers in their region. 

Task One 

The first task for these individuals was to learned about workforce development intervention strategies. To do this, they used the training curriculum called Removing the Revolving Door (RRD): Strategies to Address Recruitment and Retention Challenges. Each team of change agents worked through the RRD modules and lessons with the technical assistance from RTC. Throughout this learning process, each agency assessed its current workforce challenges and developed a unique workforce development intervention plan to address them. RRD lessons were followed up with lessons were followed up with the on-line version of RRD, called the College of Frontline Supervision and Management (CFSM), to reinforce learning and provide another method for training FLSs in workforce development.

Both RRD and CFSM include modules on the following topics and competencies —

  • The role of FLSs in influencing DSP recruitment, retention, and training outcomes, including their ability to identify the impact of recruitment and retention issues on consumers, DSPs, and the organization; effectively participate in and communicate about organization-wide activities to address these issues; identify a range of participatory management techniques; and use strategies to collaborate with DSPs in management decisions.
  • Using effective recruitment and selection strategies to find and hire DSPs who will stay, including tapping new recruitment sources; using structured interviews and other selection methods; and clearly differentiating recruitment and selection strategies.
  • Effectively using socialization, orientation, mentoring, and training strategies — including formal and informal training, orientation, and mentoring practices — to respond to the needs, desires, and interests of new employees; using accurate competency-based DSP job descriptions to develop training and conduct performance appraisals; and coordinating and participating in DSP orientation and in-service training.
  • Effectively using team building, conflict management, and employee recognition strategies, including understanding the importance of recognition in promoting job satisfaction and organizational commitment; matching specific recognition techniques to the needs of individual DSPs; and enhancing staff relations by using effective communication skills, encouraging growth and self-development, facilitating teamwork, employing conflict resolution skills, and adequately supporting DSPs.
  • Effectively using, selecting, implementing, and evaluating targeted recruitment and retention interventions, including working with stakeholders (e.g., consumers, families, DSPs, agency administrators) to establish baselines, select intervention strategies to address identified problems, and implement and evaluate the outcomes of selected interventions.

 One of the key concepts stressed during this initial training was the important role FLSs play in the recruitment and retention of high quality DSPs. Better trained FLSs are better able to provide high quality training and support to DSPs, resulting in higher quality DSPs and better supports, services, and lives for people with disabilities.

Task Two

The second major project activity was to invite the 15 change agents to participate in a four-day “train-the-trainer” session. The purpose of the session was to reinforce RRD lessons, share and network with others from across the country, and learn techniques to teach FLSs in their own agencies about workforce development interventions. Following the training, the change agents returned home to: 1) begin training and supporting FLSs in these highly effective workforce development practices, and 2) refi ne and implement their workforce development intervention plan.

Project staff provided comprehensive technical assistance to participants throughout all project activities, including reviewing their baseline data, selecting intervention techniques to target their agency’s specific problems, and developing and implementing the selected intervention techniques. The effectiveness of the intervention plans will be assessed by comparing baseline data on annual turnover rates, vacancy rates, and training outcomes with similar information gathered after the implementation of the interventions. Ongoing technical assistance is was provided through email, phone calls, and face-to-face visits to support and guide future intervention work.

The projects technical assistants make use of and recommend various workforce development tools, including planning worksheets, database templates, sample structured interview questions, realistic job preview selection guidelines, baseline worksheets, exit questionnaires, staff satisfaction surveys, organizational commitment surveys, and training needs assessments, just to name a few.

An important project activity was for the agency participants to develop plans to sustain their workforce development efforts, not only within their agencies and coalitions, but also regionally with other community human service employers. To help in this process, another training was held in May 2005. Participants had an opportunity to share what they had done, discuss their successes, and learn about what it would take to sustain their workforce development efforts.

Participants begin to develop their individual workforce development sustainability plans. As the project came to an end, participants have had begun to provide training and technical assistance to other organizations and FLSs regionally.

The final activity of the project was an assessment of its success. All of the participating agencies were asked to conduct post-intervention assessments to evaluate the impact of project participation on workforce development outcomes in their agencies. The final project report will summarize the interventions used and the outcomes experienced by participating agencies. When this report is complete at the end of 2006, it will be submitted to Frontline Initiative for publication consideration.