Program Profile

Impact Feature Issue on Direct Support Workforce Development

Investing in DSPs: The Illinois DSP Workforce Initiative


John Sauer is Program Coordinator with the project at the Research and Training Center on Community Living, Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

In 2004, the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities made a three-year, $900,000 investment to facilitate statewide systems change to address Illinois’ direct support workforce issues. The project, titled the Illinois Direct Support Professional (DSP) Workforce Initiative, created a partnership between the Council; the University of Minnesota’s Research and Training Center on Community Living; the Institute in Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago; the Human Service Research Institute from Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Illinois organizations, families, and individuals with disabilities concerned about improving workforce outcomes.

The project vision is that people with developmental disabilities, and their families and support networks, have trained, valued, and creative DSPs to assist them in living quality lives and fully participating in their communities. Toward that end, the main activities of the initiative include the following:

  • Establishing a statewide Steering and Advisory Committee (SAC) charged with the responsibility of directing and guiding the work of the project through, among other tasks, (1) identifying and prioritizing the primary and persistent statewide workforce challenges; (2) selecting project participants from among community human services organizations, as well as individuals and families who direct their own supports; and (3) developing and disseminating a comprehensive, statewide workforce development plan.
  • Providing training and technical assistance to 14 participating organizations and 4 alternate organizations to assess organizational workforce challenges and implement an organizational workforce development plan to positively impact those challenges.
  • Providing training and technical assistance to 10 individuals or families who direct their own supports to assess key workforce challenges and select workforce intervention strategies to make their lives less complicated with regard to finding, choosing, and keeping good DSPs.

SAC created the following work groups to implement specific action plans:

  • The Recruitment and Retention Strategies Work Group, which identified strategies and activities to attract and retain qualified DSPs in the Illinois workforce.
  • The Education, Training and Career Development Work Group, which developed intermediate and advanced education opportunities that could yield college credit and lead to voluntary specialized credentialing programs.
  • The Workforce Data and Statistics Work Group, which developed systemic strategies to identify and prioritize statewide data needs; establish a uniform set of and methods to gather pertinent data; and monitor DSP wages, benefits, and workforce outcomes.
  • The Status and Awareness Work Group, which organized a set of actions to elevate the awareness, understanding, status, and respect for the direct support profession.
  • The Mentoring and Supervision Work Group, which supported DSPs by creating strategies to help develop skillful and effective supervisors and mentors.

The accomplishments of this initiative have been numerous. The 14 participating organizations made changes to help them move toward the initiative vision. Their activities included revising training for DSPs (including using the College of Direct Support), customizing and using Realistic Job Previews, providing competency-based training for supervisors and managers, using structured behavioral interviews, improving orientation and socialization practices, using participatory management techniques, measuring workforce outcomes, improving employee recognition, creating an Illinois Chapter of the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (the Illinois Direct Support Professional Association), and establishing mentoring programs. In addition, a number of resources were developed through the initiative, including:

  • A video, Direct Support: A Realistic Job Preview, distributed to members of the SAC and to the participating organizations to use in recruitment. Three organizations received a customized version specific to their organization.
  • The College of Direct Support, a national competency-based training curriculum for DSPs on the Web was customized with Illinois-specific content.
  • A comprehensive DSP Workforce Development Plan was developed and disseminated statewide by the SAC stakeholders.
  • A toolkit of strategies, processes, and activities to find, choose, and keep great DSPs was developed for the participating individuals with disabilities and another for families.