Program Profile

Impact Feature Issue on Direct Support Workforce Development

Training Frontline Supervisors in Workforce Development: The NTIFFS Project

In 2003, the University of Minnesota’s Research and Training Center on Community Living (RTC/CL) began a three-year project to train community human service employer “change agents” in workforce development practices and strategies to improve recruitment, retention, and training of Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) and Frontline Supervisors (FLSs). The purpose of the project – titled the National Training Institute for Frontline Supervisors (NTIFFS) – was to refine, test, and deliver to participating agencies a national train-the-trainer and technical assistance model on DSP workforce development interventions.

Project Approach and Activities

This project shared workforce strategies and interventions employers and FLSs can use to improve DSP retention and lower vacancies rates. Training was based on the College of Direct Support and the College of Frontline Supervision and Management online curricula, the Removing the Revolving Doorcurriculum developed at the RTC/CL, and the bookStaff Recruitment, Retention, and Training Strategies for Community Human Services Organizations (Larson & Hewitt, 2005) written by RTC/CL staff.

More than 200 applications were received from organizations around the United States for five spots in the project. Participants had to commit to the project fully by providing information regarding turnover and vacancy rates at the beginning of the project and annually for its duration. In addition, they had to submit documentation of support and commitment of resources with their application in order to be considered. The organizations selected to participate were:

  • New Horizons Resources of New York
  • Orange Grove Center of Tennessee
  • Potomac Center of West Virginia
  • A partnership of Bancroft NeuroHealth and Devereux, both from New Jersey
  • A Wyoming partnership of the Southwest Wyoming Rehabilitation Center, Community Entry Services, and Rehabilitation Enterprises of Northeastern Wyoming

The project trained a cadre of “change agents” to help the participating community human service employers improve their DSP workforce outcomes. Seventeen participants attended two one-week intensive train-the-trainer sessions in Minneapolis during 2004 and 2005; they left equipped with the information they needed to train the FLSs in their agencies. These change agents received training in proven workforce development intervention strategies that help employers find and keep high quality DSPs. In return, the participants committed time and people willing to learn new skills, share their expertise, implement changes, and provide feedback to the project advisory committee on how to make these changes work best across the country. The project provided specific technical assistance to participants on assessing their workforce challenges and developing long-term plans to address these challenges. Technical assistance was provided through on-site and remote contacts with the change agents in each participating agency. During the last year of the project participants developed sustainability plans and provided technical assistance to other organizations eager to learn what they had learned about improving DSP and FLS recruitment, retention, and training.

Project Accomplishments

Overall, 4,617 DSPs, FLS and other staff participated in the following:

  • 317 supervisors or managers completed 3,075 College of Frontline Supervision and Management lessons online.
  • 590 supervisors or managers attendedRemoving the Revolving Doortraining.
  • 238 supervisors or managers attended other supervisory training.
  • 2,090 DSPs saw a Realistic Job Preview.
  • 409 DSPs participated in a recruitment or hiring bonus program.
  • 101 DSPs received training through the College of Direct Support.
  • 552 DSP applicants were interviewed using a structured behavioral interview.
  • 194 DSPs were recruited using marketing and recruitment materials from the training.
  • 521 DSPs were oriented using revised procedures based on the training.
  • 505 DSPs were welcomed to their organizations in a new way.

Additionally, in other organizations in the participating states 49 FLSs received technical assistance from the participants, and 19 legislators were contactedabout DSP workforce challenges and solutions.

The six partners from five states who finished the project saw significant decreases in DSP turnover by the end of the project. Across the partners, DSP turnover was reduced from 40% in 2004 to 23% in 2006. In addition, each participating organization had its own successes and challenges in relation to the training. Some of the specific experiences of the participating agencies, and their views of the training, are highlighted in the six agency profiles accompanying this article.


The NTIFFS project is important because it creates a model for training frontline supervisors and organizational leaders on workforce development intervention strategies. It demonstrates that when frontline supervisors and leaders implement these intervention strategies in a thoughtful, planned way, they reap the benefits of increased retention and decreased turnover of DSPs.

Note:The training project was funded by a Field Initiative Development grant #H133G030058 from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). U.S. Department of Education.


  • Larson, S. A., & Hewitt, A. (2005). Staff recruitment, retention and training strategies for community human services organizations. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.