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Supported Employment

This topic provides general information about Supported Employment in a question and answer format. You can read the topic sequentially, or jump directly to any of its sections listed below:

 What is Supported Employment?


 Basic Components

 Supported Employment Models

 Benefits to Employers

What is Supported Employment?

Supported employment is a program to assist people with the most significant disabilities to become and remain successfully and competitively employed in integrated workplace settings. Supported employment frequently is targeted at people with the most severe disabilities for whom competitive employment has not traditionally occurred, has been interrupted or is intermittent because of the disability, or who, because of the severity of their disability, need intensive or extended support services to work competitively. Supported employment provides assistance such as job coaches, transportation, assistive technology, specialized job training, and individually tailored supervision.

Increasingly, supported employment programs seek to identify jobs that provide wages above the minimum wage, fringe benefits and career potential. Supported employment programs not only develop jobs for people with the most significant disabilities, but also provide a qualified labor source for the business sector.

Supported employment is a way to move people from dependence on a service delivery system to independence via competitive employment. Studies indicate that the provision of on-going support services for people with severe disabilities significantly increases their rates for employment retention. Supported employment encourages people to work within their communities and encourages work, social interaction, and integration.

Typically, the most effective employment outcomes are achieved initially by using natural workplace supports in conjunction with agency-provided supports. Many of the agency supports can eventually be replaced by natural supports in the work environment, similar to the ones that all employees receive.

Definitions of Basic Supported Employment Terms

Supported services: Job development and placement; intensive job-site training; facilitation of natural supports; special skills training; supplementary assessment; contact with employers, parents, family members and advocacy organizations; teaching compensatory workplace strategies.

Extensive support services: Support services needed on an ongoing basis to support and maintain a person in competitive employment, provided at no cost to the employer.

Employment Specialist/Consultant (Job Coach): A person employed by a job training and placement organization serving people with disabilities who matches clients with jobs, provides necessary supports during the initial employment period (such as specialized on-site training to assist the employee with a disability in learning and performing the job and adjusting to the work environment) and then facilitates the transition to natural workplace supports while reducing his or her role.

Natural supports: Support from supervisors and co-workers occurring in the workplace to assist employees with disabilities to perform their jobs, including supports already provided by employers for all employees. These natural supports may be both formal and informal, and include mentoring, supervision (ongoing feedback on job performance), training (learning a new job skill with a co-worker) and co-workers socializing with employees with disabilities at breaks or after work. Natural supports are particularly effective because they enhance the social integration and acceptance of an employee with a disability within the workplace. In addition, natural supports tend to be more permanent, consistently and readily available, thereby facilitating long-term job-retention.

Carving/job creation: The process of breaking down jobs into their key components and assigning them to employees based on efficient company operations and customization to meet the skills of the employee with a disability. This process results in either job restructuring or job creation.

Job development: Locating jobs for people with disabilities through networking with employers, businesses and community leaders. The use of Business Advisory Councils is an excellent way to develop contacts that lead to employment for people with disabilities.

Basic Components

Supported employment services should achieve the following outcomes: opportunity to earn equitable wages and other employment-related benefits, development of new skills, increased community participation, enhanced self-esteem, increased consumer empowerment, and quality of life. The types of supported employment services used depend on the needs of individual consumers. The following are the basic components of supported employment:

Paid Employment -- Wages are a major outcome of supported employment. Work performed must be compensated with the same benefits and wages as other workers in similar jobs receive. This includes sick leave, vacation time, health benefits, bonuses, training opportunities, and other benefits. Employment must be for at least 18 hours per week.

Integrated Work Sites -- Integration is one of the essential features of supported employment. Individuals with disabilities should have the same opportunities to participate in all activities in which other employees participate and to work alongside other employees who do not have disabilities.

Ongoing Support -- A key characteristic which distinguishes supported employment from other employment programs is the provision of ongoing support for individuals with severe disabilities to maintain employment.

Supported Employment Models

Several supported employment models are being used to provide the benefits of work for people with severe disabilities.

Individual Placement Model -- A person with a disability is placed in a job in a community business which best suits his/her abilities and preferences. Training is provided on the job site in job skills and work related behaviors, including social skills, by a job coach. As the employee gains skills and confidence, the job coach gradually spends less time at the worksite. Support is never completely removed. The private or public vocational rehabilitation agency furnishing the job coach is always available to the employer for retraining for new assignments, assisting in dealing with challenging behaviors, supplying periodic consultations with co-workers and employer, giving orientation and training for co-workers. In this model, the consumers may obtain employment independently and then contact the supported employment providers to get assistance or support, as needed, or a rehabilitation or community services agency may place the consumer in a job and then provide or facilitate the ongoing support services needed to help assist him or her to retain the job.

Enclave Model -- A small group of people with disabilities (generally 5-8) is trained and supervised among employees who are not disabled at the host company's work site. Persons in the enclave work as a team at a single work site in a community business or industry. Initial training, supervision, and support are provided by a specially trained on-site supervisor, who may work for the host company or the placement agency. Another variation of the enclave approach is called the "dispersed enclave." This model is used in service industries (e.g., universities, restaurants, and hotels). Each person works on a separate job, and the group is dispersed throughout the company.

Mobile Work Crew -- A small crew of persons with disabilities (up to 6) works as a distinct unit and operates as a self-contained business that generates employment for their crew members by selling a service. The crew works at several locations within the community, under the supervision of a job coach. The type of work frequently includes janitorial or grounds keeping. People with disabilities work with people who do not have disabilities in a variety of settings, such as offices and apartment buildings.

Small Business Model -- Within a small business, there may be up to six employees with disabilities, but not more than the number of employees without disabilities. The small business operates like any business, generating work and paying employees from revenues received. The small business is located within the community.

Entrepreneurial Model - The consumer is supported by the rehabilitation or community services agency in getting the services and supports needed to successfully run his or her own business.

Benefits to Employers

 No fee to employer

 Thoroughly screened applicants

 Employees' abilities matched to job requirements

 On-site job training by professionals

 Additional training, as necessary

 Follow-up services for the duration of employment

Also see:

Customized Employment

Job Applicants and the ADA

Employment Rights and the ADA

Self-Employment and Small Business

APSE: The Network on Employment


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