Frontline Initiative Credentialing
My journey on the road to becoming a Direct Support Specialist began when I enrolled in the Wyoming Department of Labor (DOL) apprenticeship program at Ark Regional Services in Laramie, Wyoming. I am a fulltime supervisor in charge of two Day Habilitation programs and am a part-time student at the University of Wyoming, working towards a Bachelor’s degree in social work. My decision to go into social work was based on my work experience at Ark. When I had the chance to be a part of the DOL program, I saw it as an opportunity to enhance my knowledge and skills as a Direct Support Professional (DSP).
As a direct support supervisor, I work side-by-side with eight staff in two Day Habilitation programs. I am responsible for making sure staff have the skills they need to do their jobs effectively. Prior to entering the DOL program, I had average skills in training and giving feedback, but I lacked the confidence needed to be a successful supervisor.
The DOL apprenticeship enhanced my skills and confidence as a DSP. I developed a better understanding of how to effectively educate staff and give feedback on their skill development. I have capitalized on my strengths as a role model and have learned to observe staff as they practice and apply their skills.
Key to my success in this program was the support I received from the program facilitators and my assigned mentor who partnered with me through the journey. The education and support I received from these individuals included education and modeling of skills, observation and feedback on my skill performance, a written skills test, and my final project and presentation to both my fellow apprentices and a professional committee.
My training began with an overview of the history of the organization and was followed with classroom instruction on specific skill areas needed for success as a DSP. Following classroom instruction, the teaching process focused on modeling, observation, and feedback on the skills, and then practice and application on the job. My mentor supported me through observation and feedback as I practiced my skills. This method of instruction was effective for me as it combined both classroom education and practice on the job. I concluded my apprenticeship with a presentation of my individual project, which demonstrated the knowledge and skills that I had gained over the course of my apprenticeship. I must admit that throughout the apprenticeship program I found myself challenged, stressed, and at times overwhelmed, but also excited by my new understanding of what quality supports mean to people with disabilities. I can also state with confidence that I am now able to effectively train the DSPs who work for me with confidence as a result of my apprenticeship.
I believe that the DOL program positively impacts Ark Regional Services as an organization, its staff members, and most importantly, the individuals being supported. It has created a partnership between employer and employee in which each party has a greater understanding of the organization’s philosophy and expectations. It gives DSPs an opportunity to gain valuable skills and knowledge, and creates career paths for continuing professional growth. I am excited about the opportunity to become a nationally-credentialed DSP in order to enhance the status of the profession.