Frontline Initiative Credentialing

Mentoring DSP Apprentices


Mike Wheately is a Journey Worker at New Horizons Resources, Inc, based in Poughkeepsie, New York.

For 18 years I have worked at New Horizons Resources (NHR) in New York State, providing services and supports to adults with developmental disabilities in a residential setting. In the time that I have worked here I have served as both Residential Counselor and Assistant Residence Manager. In addition, I am a journey worker and mentor in the agency’s Direct Support Professional (DSP) apprenticeship program.

In 2004, NHR, in collaboration with the New York State Department of Labor, added DSP to its list of apprenticed occupations. NHR was the first to start an apprenticeship program. The reasons for establishing the apprenticeship program were to advance the formal recognition of direct support work and to create an opportunity to develop statewide guidelines for what DSPs need to know and do to become more effective in their jobs. Apprenticeship is a practical way to apply what you learn to what you do. Like any other apprenticed occupation, there must be specific training curricula, on-the-job training, and certification. The direct support apprentice must both complete classroom instructional hours and be able to demonstrate on-the-job skills.

A mentor/journey worker is someone who acts as coach by applying a method of teaching and learning. The mentor pairs up with an apprentice for the purposes of: 1) helping the apprentice feel supported, 2) welcoming and supporting their growth, and 3) helping them to develop specific skills that they will use on the job. Mentoring occurs when an experienced DSP helps someone with less knowledge and skill reflect on their own experiences as an employee, current practices, culture, and values, for the purpose of expanding, refining, developing, and building new skills that they will need in their work. As a result of this partnership, growth can occur in other ways as well. I have found that as a mentor, I have also strengthened my skills as a leader, and have developed good, positive relationships with those whom I have mentored.

As a mentor, I am responsible for a variety of duties as established in a mentorship agreement. In regard to the apprenticeship program, my role as a mentor includes initiating frequent (at least weekly) contact with my apprentice. This can be done by either a phone call or a one-on-one meeting, and it is, in my opinion, the most important aspect of my work as a mentor.

As part of the program, an apprentice/mentee must keep a “blue book,” a requirement of the New York State Department of Labor. The blue book contains a record of training hours – both educational and work training – that must be signed off on by a mentor.

A mentor must also possess certain qualities that will foster positive relationships. A mentor must be able to provide recognition and commendation to the apprentice for quality work performance. I have found that it is hard to provide constructive feedback regarding work performance, but it is necessary. Honesty is always the best way to approach this. Sharing your own experiences in a given situation will help soften the impact of hearing that there are some things that can be done better. All communications and conversations between mentor and apprentice must remain confidential. This is helpful in establishing and developing a level of trust. Trust goes a long way toward maintaining the strong relationship you have built.

In conclusion, the mentor must be able to exercise these roles and perform a variety of responsibilities in order to help the apprentice develop his/her skills, expand on those skills, and grow as a DSP.