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How to Build a Customized Employment Program

The unemployment rate for persons with disabilities is more than twice that of individuals without disabilities. To help clients with disabilities find meaningful, stable jobs, many organizations have turned to customized employment. In this person-centered employment model, intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) organizations partner with clients to seek out and obtain employment opportunities.

The goals of customized employment

Customized employment aims to harmonize the requirements of local businesses with the preferences, abilities, and employment conditions of job seekers. This approach employs a range of methods and resources to pinpoint and cultivate favorable employment outcomes that are mutually advantageous for employers and employees alike.

For IDD professionals, customized employment presents a proven framework equipped with tools and techniques to enhance their clients’ capacity to navigate the job market effectively by involving:

  • The individual seeking employment
  • Their support network of advocates, including family members, friends, and community mentors
  • The expertise of the employment specialist

Customized employment fosters stable and fulfilling employment opportunities, guided by the individual’s career preferences and aspirations. This process prioritizes the individual’s agency and ensures that the employment journey remains person-centered, ultimately leading to meaningful and sustainable employment outcomes.

The four phases of customized employment

The process of guiding clients through a customized employment program may seem daunting. Luckily, there are signposts that can guide you in the right direction. Research has shown that dividing the search for customized employment into the following four distinct phases will help make your efforts as efficacious as possible:

  • Discovery
  • “Lists of 20”
  • Consultative employment training and support
  • Ongoing or long-term support

Let’s review each of these phases in more detail.

Discovery, or Discovering Personal Genius™

Customized employment begins with Discovery, or Griffin-Hammis Associates’ trademark approach, Discovering Personal Genius. This initial phase serves as the cornerstone of customized employment, diverging from conventional employment assessments commonly utilized in supported employment and similar services.

Traditional assessments or evaluations typically rely on inquiries, tasks, and exercises to gauge an individual’s suitability for employment and identify potential job matches. Unfortunately, these assessments may occasionally deem individuals as “unemployable” based on their outcomes.

Both Discovery and traditional assessments offer mechanisms for understanding the interests, skills, and capabilities of the job seeker, facilitating the exploration of suitable employment opportunities. However, Discovery stands out by emphasizing a more holistic and personalized approach, focusing on uncovering individual strengths and preferences to identify tailored employment solutions.

Lists of 20

Upon concluding the Discovery phase, both the employment seeker and the employment professional identify three vocational themes in order to provide a range of options for the job seeker. Subsequently, the team collaborates to formulate “Lists of 20,” comprising 20 distinct businesses aligned with each theme. This process produces 60 potential opportunities tailored to the employment seeker’s interests and skills.

Following the compilation of the Lists of 20, the employment professional arranges informational interviews with five to eight businesses. Unlike traditional job interviews aimed at securing immediate positions, these meetings provide the employment seeker and the employment professional with an opportunity to:

  • Learn about the business environment.
  • Gain insights into various tasks associated with the work.
  • Establish connections within the industry.

This preparatory phase sets the stage for informed decision-making and strategic career planning tailored to the individual’s preferences and strengths.

Consultative employment training and support

The consultative employment training and support phase begins once the employment seeker agrees to a negotiated, customized position. Throughout this stage, the employment professional provides ongoing assistance to the newly hired employee and company team members during the onboarding and training phases.

Historically known as “job coaching,” this phase involves employment professionals serving as primary trainers and supervisors at the job site for supported employees.

To initiate this phase, the employment professional collaborates with the supervisor or manager to conduct a comprehensive job analysis. This step ensures clarity regarding roles, responsibilities, and job tasks for all parties involved.

Furthermore, the employment seeker, employment professional, and other team members collaborate to establish necessary supports outside of the workplace, including:

  • Procuring required clothing
  • Ensuring the availability of tools or equipment
  • Validating employees’ transportation arrangements

By addressing these essential elements collaboratively, the team ensures a smooth transition into the customized position, facilitating the individual’s success and integration into the workplace environment.

Ongoing or long-term support

It’s important for employment seekers and employment professionals to acknowledge that the first job a person gets will not necessarily be the only job they ever have. Rather, it serves as a steppingstone towards future career opportunities. Each job secured through this process lays the groundwork for potential career advancement, much like the trajectory of anyone’s career.

As individuals gain work experience, their personal vocational profiles change too, reflecting their growth and development within the workforce. Customized employment programs, thus, must remain responsive to the ever-changing needs and aspirations of individuals as they navigate their career trajectories.

Desired outcomes of customized employment programs

Before your organization begins offering customized employment programs, you need to understand what your clients’ desired outcomes are and how to help them achieve them. In this section, we’ll explore three of the most frequent outcomes of customized employment plans and what they mean for you and your clients.

Negotiated wage employment

In negotiated wage employment, a collaborative effort is undertaken by the employment specialist, the employment seeker, and a community business to identify and craft suitable job opportunities. Through this process, they develop roles that align with the individual’s capabilities and preferences. These positions are tailored to match the employment seeker’s skills and interests while simultaneously meeting the needs of the business.

This approach ensures that the employment seeker is placed in a position where they can thrive, contributing meaningfully to the business while fulfilling their own professional aspirations.

Resource ownership

Resource ownership involves employees contributing valuable assets to a company to facilitate job creation.

For instance, an employment seeker may utilize state vocational rehabilitation funds to procure machinery or tools that would benefit a community business. In this scenario, the employment seeker retains ownership of the equipment, utilizing it within the business to generate additional revenue streams. Consequently, this supplementary income enables the business to hire the employment seeker.

Especially for smaller businesses constrained by limited financial resources, resource ownership emerges as a compelling economic development strategy. By leveraging external funding to acquire essential equipment, businesses can overcome financial constraints, enhance operational efficiency, and create employment opportunities, thereby fostering sustainable growth within the community.


Self-employment presents a compelling avenue for individuals with disabilities seeking employment. In fact, among people with disabilities, 8% are self-employed, which is higher than the 6% self-employment rate of people without disabilities.

By becoming their own boss, individuals can tailor their work environment to accommodate their unique needs and abilities. Self-employment offers flexibility in scheduling, allowing individuals to work at their own pace and manage their workload according to their preferences.

With the rise of online platforms and digital marketing, self-employment has become more accessible than ever, providing individuals with disabilities the autonomy and independence to pursue fulfilling and sustainable careers.


A Guide to Customized Employment

Employment opportunities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are evolving. Customized employment can help you work with the people you serve and local employers to create positions that benefit both.

Download the e-book →

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