Impact Feature Issue on Supporting New Career Paths for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Creative Job Development:
Are You Unbundling?


Sheila Fesko is Project Director with the College of Employment Services, an online, competency-based training curriculum for employment professionals nationwide that is based at the University of Massachusetts Boston

Picture this: A job developer, Sonia, is having an energy audit done on her home. She strikes up a conversation with the auditor. He describes the training he had for the work, and tells her how he uses data and conducts tests to help customers reduce energy consumption. The auditor says he likes interacting with customers. But some other tasks, like collecting data from appliance labels and measuring rooms, is time-consuming and keeps him from the more technical elements of his job. Trying to cover all of these elements himself results in each audit taking half a day, and there is a backlog of people wanting an audit.

One of the job seekers Sonia works with is Carmen, a young woman with an intellectual disability. She works best with a consistent routine, likes to write and draw, and can copy information from printed material. Carmen does not have verbal communication skills, but has worked well with a partner at an auto supply store.

You can guess where this is going, right? By keeping her eyes and ears open, Sonia recognizes the problem the auditor is experiencing, and she thinks about Carmen’s skills and interests. It seems like there could be a job match there, but the job doesn’t exist quite yet.

Sonia begins the process of creating a new job by unbundling tasks from the energy auditor’s responsibilities. Here’s what she does, and how you can apply these steps in your own work:

  • Becomes acquainted with work-site needs.
  • Creates a task list.
  • Negotiates employment proposal.

Get Acquainted with Work-Site Needs

The first step in becoming acquainted with the employer’s needs is to conduct an informational interview. Ask the employer key questions that will lead to more knowledge of the business and its operations. Employers are generally quite willing to meet when there is a sincere desire to learn about their business. The purpose of the informational interview is not to market a specific job seeker, but to get to know the employer’s needs and problem areas.

The second step is to ask for a tour. A work-site tour is a good way to clarify operational procedures, identify specific tasks, and pinpoint opportunities where customizing a position would benefit that employer. During the tour, identify possible challenges or areas of operation that are particularly troublesome. Things to consider include:

  • Rush times
  • Tasks performed on a sporadic basis
  • Bottlenecks/logjams/overflowing inboxes
  • Inefficient use of key staff
  • Activities that pull staff away from the critical (i.e., moneymaking) responsibilities

Through these observations and discussions, you can begin to think about specific tasks that match a job seeker’s interests or capabilities.

Create a Task List

Based on the interview or tour, you can start to identify tasks that might be reassigned, created, or restructured for the job seeker. This task list can help you negotiate with the employer on what tasks they need completed and how the job seeker can address those needs.

The goal of the task list is to identify specific employer needs and to pinpoint how reassigning those tasks can improve efficiency. Tasks should be specific to the workplace. Instead of simply listing “photocopying,” the list should refer to “photocopying invoices to be sent out for payment.”

Based on the task list, there are several ways to negotiate a job description:

  • Job carving. With this approach, you modify an existing job description. The carved job description contains one or more, but not all, of the tasks from the original job description.
  • Job creation. A newly created job description is negotiated based on unmet workplace needs.
  • Job sharing. Two or more people share the tasks and responsibilities of a job based on each person’s strengths.

Negotiate the Employment Proposal

After the task list is complete, it’s time to think about negotiation. Remember, negotiations can only be effective when the employer sees what’s in it for them.

Effective negotiation occurs when the job seeker and the employer jointly agree to the answers to these questions:

  • What tasks can the job seeker do?
  • What hours will the job seeker work?
  • How much work does the employer want the job seeker to get done each day?
  • How much will the job seeker be paid?
  • What accommodations and support will be necessary?
  • How will all this help the business?


So how did things turn out for Carmen, the job seeker? Sonia worked with the auditor and the energy company to negotiate the job. She suggested tasks that Carmen could take off the auditor’s hands, and pointed out some tools to help her do this. For example, Carmen can use a digital measuring tape with an electronic read-out. With this, she can easily copy room measurements. She can also use a checklist to document appliance data. Carmen has been on the job for four months and is very happy.

The auditor reports saving time at each site. He is now able to complete three audits a day, and customers are being served more quickly. So the latest customer satisfaction surveys show improved ratings. And it all started with a job developer keeping her eyes open, recognizing an unexpected opportunity, and getting creative with unbundling.