Frontline Initiative Employment Supports

DSPs key to successful employment:
Providing effective employment supports


Rachael Sarto is a DSP and NADSP Administrator.

Derek Nord, PhD

Employment supports have changed dramatically over the years. Today’s best practices aim to match the skills and interests of individual job seekers to real jobs in the community, as well as provide supports to find, obtain, and retain work. These community-based employment supports are built and delivered on a person-by-person basis, rather than through the group approach that segregated workshops or enclaves provide. These supports allow for each person to be hired, employed and paid by a business, not by a vocational provider. The role of the employment direct support professional (DSP) is to provide supports to people through the many stages of finding and keeping work. This includes skill exploration, the job search and hiring process, and ongoing supports on- and off-the-job.

Providing effective direct supports that assist people in finding and keeping real jobs requires specific skills and knowledge. To advance community employment goals, it is necessary to define the specific skills and knowledge employment DSPs working in employment need to be successful. Among the groups working to establish a set of skills and knowledge for employment DSPs are APSE: The Network on Employment, which has offered a comprehensive position statement, and the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP), which is working to develop a Direct Support Professional Specialist credential in Employment Supports. The following areas were identified as starting points for community based employment supports. 

Understanding Community-Based Employment Supports

It is important for an employment DSP to understand and communicate best practices, history, and current laws related to employment supports. Also essential is a commitment to use the principles of integration, inclusion, and self-determination to guide all elements of direct support practice.  

Assessing Interests, Strengths, and Support Needs 


By using a variety of strategies to learn about each job seeker, the DSP can become more informed about the job seeker’s vocational direction, interests, abilities, strengths, and possible supports needed to achieve their employment goal. Ways to gain insight about each person may include working with job seekers and employers to develop situational assessments and job tryout opportunities. The DSP will also want to be able to access a job seeker’s personal network (friends, family members, and others) to identify areas of vocational interest and skil

The Job Search and Acquisition Process 

People find employment in many ways in today’s job market. For many, the tried and true way is the traditional approach, where a job seeker finds a job posting, applies and submits a resume, interviews, and is then hired by the employer. This approach does work for some people. DSPs must understand the details of the application and interview process, and use them in supporting the job seeker when suitable. However, this traditional approach is not a good fit for everybody. In order to promote opportunities for customized employment, DSPs must become better connected to the business community and to the job seeker’s personal and professional network to identify and obtain jobs. By using multiple strategies to find and acquire jobs for those they support, DSPs increase their ability to make more and better job placements.

Ongoing Supports 

The ongoing role of the employment DSP differs depending upon the needs of each individual and employer. In general, the DSP’s role involves promoting an ongoing positive work experience for both the employee and the employer, while promoting respect, self-determination, and natural supports for the employee. A competent DSP may help with on-the-job training, work with the employer to develop accommodations, assist in reducing any problematic workplace behaviors, and arrange transportation, among many other activities. The DSP may provide coaching and assistance to the employee or to the employer, communicating regularly through worksite visits, meetings, or telephone calls.

Today’s best practices aim to match the skills and interests of individual job seekers to real jobs in the community, as well as provide supports to find, obtain, and retain work.

DSP Continuing Education and Credentialing 

The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals encourages DSPs to stay up to date with ongoing training and education about providing high quality community-based employment supports. NADSP’s DSP Credentialing Program recognizes excellence in direct support practice through the DSP-Certified and DSP-Specialist in Employment Supports credentials. By developing skills and knowledge in employment supports, and achieving nationally recognized credentials, committed and hardworking employment DSPs can advance professionally, while at the same time enhancing the successes of those they support.