Overview of Customized Employment
Customized employment (CE) refers to competitive integrated employment, for an individual with a significant disability, that is based on an individualized determination of the strengths, needs, and interests of the individual with a significant disability is designed to meet the specific abilities of the individual with a significant disability and the business needs of the employer, and is carried out through flexible strategies, such as:
- Job exploration by the individual and
- Working with an employer to facilitate placement, including
- Customizing a job description based on current employer needs or on previously unidentified and unmet employer needs; Developing a set of job duties, a work schedule, specifics of supervision (including performance evaluation and review), and determining a job location;
- Representation by a professional chosen by the individual, or self-representation of the individual, in working with an employer to facilitate placement; and
- Providing services and supports at the job location
It is further understood that in CE, the employer of record is the owner of the business in which the employee is working. Historically, employment services for individuals with disabilities have acted as a proxy employer, managing contract agreements with the owners of businesses. In CE, the owner of the business must be the employer of record.
Customized employment is a relationship between an employer and an employee that is negotiated to meet the needs of both parties. It is based on an exchange of specific contributions by the employee for pay by the employer at or above minimum wage. CE is a universal employment strategy and is especially useful for employment seekers with significant life complexities and barriers to employment, such as severe disability. It is presumed that all employment seekers can work if CE is used as the employment strategy. Employment seekers with the most significant disabilities have traditionally been excluded from consideration for employment due to the pre-set demands of competitive personnel practices. CE provides a strategy to navigate these challenges and, thus, provides a possibility for any employment seeker to be successfully employed. The process comprises a set of pre-employment services designed to ensure that the employment seeker is the primary driver of the outcome received. CE is included in the definition of supported employment (SE) services in WIOA: “The term supported employment services means ongoing support services, including customized employment, needed to support and maintain an individual with the most significant disability.” The Essential Elements of CE dovetail with SE to assure the employer and employee with a disability work successfully together.
The Essential Elements of Customized Employment
A. Negotiation of job duties. In demand-side employment, job duties are set by employers prior to recruitment interactions with employment seekers. In CE, the job duties are set as a result of negotiations with employers.
B. Individualization, involving a job for one person. Historically, employment services for individuals with disabilities have allowed multiple individuals to perform job tasks for contracted expectations by employers. In CE, the employment relationship is individualized unless employment seekers wish to share job duties or co-own a business.
C. Negotiated pay of at least the minimum wage. CE does not utilize subminimum wages. The pay for a customized job is based on the successful negotiation of several factors: the target wage set by the employment seeker, the entry wage paid by the employer, the typical wage paid for positions that contain tasks to be performed by the employee and other similar factors as is consistent with the definition of competitive integrated employment as defined in 34 CFR 361.5(c)(9)(ii) of WIOA.
D. CE occurs in businesses in the community or in businesses owned by the individual. Historically, individuals with disabilities have been offered employment in human service settings alongside other individuals with disabilities in organizations whose primary mission is serving individuals with disabilities. For CE, if an individual wishes to work in a human service organization, the work tasks performed must be associated with those performed by human service staff such as finance, supervision, counseling, and administration. The work tasks should not include any of the contract work performed by “clients” or students of the organization as this is inconsistent with the definition of competitive integrated employment.
E. CE facilitates mutually beneficial voluntary employment relationships. In traditional demand-side employment, employment seekers, or their representatives seek businesses with job openings and try to convince employers that they can meet the demands of the existing job descriptions based on the employment seeker’s resume, education, and past experiences. In CE, representatives seek to find a successful it between specific areas of benefit and need for employers in the form of job tasks aligned to the employment seeker’s strengths, needs, and interests. In addition, because CE seeks to bypass typical personnel processes, employment seekers and their representatives are encouraged to seek voluntary, negotiated relationships with employers.
F. Job development “agents” are used as necessary to represent the employment seeker. Historically, employment seekers were often encouraged to prepare for competitive personnel interactions with employers by practicing interview responses, developing standard resumes, and through other techniques. CE is enhanced by having skilled representatives approach potential employers and explain CE. The representatives describe the unique features of the employment seeker and identify tasks that fit the individual and benefit the employer. They then negotiate a customized job description and employment expectations. Whenever possible, the employment seeker should be included in tandem with the agent when approaching the employer, and in some instances, the employment seeker may take the lead to represent themselves when approaching the employer.
G. A qualitative “no fail” process that presumes that all individuals can work and includes discovery of the employment seeker to determine the employment seeker’s strengths needs and interests. Traditionally, employment services for individuals with disabilities used comparative assessments to determine the likelihood that the employment seeker might become employed. This resulted in many individuals with more significant disabilities being excluded from employment services. For CE, it is, therefore, necessary to begin employment services by using a process that presumes benefit by the employment seeker and that cannot be “failed.”
H. Customized self-employment or customized wage employment, as chosen by the individual. Although the vast majority of individuals with disabilities will find a predictable wage relationship with an employer to be the best route for employment, CE can also involve individualized business ownership as an option. This path should be determined through Discovery with the individual. Just as with CE for wage employment, customized self-employment considers business owners’ strengths, ecological needs, and interests to align to specific market opportunities found in the community that match the individual’s profile.
I. CE is best used to meet the needs of employment seekers with disabilities who have not been or are unlikely to be successful with traditional, demandside employment. Many, possibly most, individuals with disabilities can benefit from traditional, demand-side employment as long as they are well-matched to jobs and receive reasonable accommodation and post-employment supports, as needed. CE should be offered to those individuals whose disability makes demand-side employment unlikely or impossible.
See additional pages of this Essential Elements