Customized Employment Components

Customized Employmnet

The Individualized Career Planning Model

The Individualized Career Planning Model was being developed and refined in Montana with the support of U.S. Department of Education grants and the Montana Council on Developmental Disabilities. The purpose of the demonstration projects has been to create a model of transition planning and career development for students with significant disabilities which incorporates the use of Social Security Work Incentives, natural supports, and linkages to Workforce Investment and other adult agencies to promote access to community employment and self-employment. The model was created to address the concern about poor transition-to-employment outcomes for students with severe disabilities and to offer a model of career development and transition which could offer a solution. It has been piloted in twelve partnering schools, two education cooperatives, and two Human Resource Development Councils (HRDC) in Montana.

The Model

  • The end goal of the planning is paid, community-based employment for each student regardless of the severity of their disability. The innovative features of the model include: customized employment opportunities, work experiences and transition planning for each student driven by the student’s interests, support needs, strengths and contributions.
  • Entrepreneurial options or self-employment are considered as a post-school outcome or as a career experience option for students in addition to traditional wage employment.
  • Alternative resources which increase consumer and family choice and control over services to support employment, such as Social Security Work Incentives, are incorporated into transition planning.
  • Linkages between agencies such as Vocational Rehabilitation, Workforce Investment and the schools are developed to promote the collaborative funding of employment and transition activities for each student.

The Individualized Career Planning Model was conceptualized for students aged 14 (or younger if appropriate) through 21 or graduation from high school. The model promotes individualized vocational planning within some recommended benchmarks and time lines for vocational activities. To ensure individualization of career planning, vocational activities (whether school-based jobs for students under the age of 16 or community-based jobs for students 16 and older), are guided by a process called Discovery and the Vocational Profile.

Customized Employment Versus a Labor-Market-Driven Employment Approach

Another feature of the Individualized Career Planning Model is that employment experiences and paid jobs are customized for students. This includes unpaid school-based experiences for younger students or paid, community-based experiences for older students. “Customized employment means individualizing the employment relationship between employees and employers in ways that meet the needs of both” (Callahan, 2002). “Customized” implies that the work experiences are created, carved or negotiated for the individual student based upon their needs, strengths and interests, i.e., the information gathered during the Discovery process.

Why customize? For students with a significant impact of disability, customizing an experience or employment setting enhances the opportunities for their participation. By custom tailoring a position, we can maximize a student’s competent performance. By removing or avoiding tasks a person cannot do well (or at all) and creating supports and environments where we know students are at their best, we maximize their independent and competent performance, increase their self-esteem, and also promote them as competent employees to coworkers and employers. If we place a student in a job environment or performing a task that doesn’t match their ideal conditions, we can set them up to be perceived as less productive, needing more support than they actually do, and dependent on a support person to work in the community.

The traditional labor market approach, matching people to existing job openings, has not typically resulted in jobs for people with more severe disabilities. When required to compete against applicants without disabilities for a job opening, or having one’s skills and abilities compared against an existing job description, people with a more significant impact of disability don’t measure up (Callahan, 2002). However, if an individualized approach is used to represent a person’s contributions to employers needing those contributions, skills, abilities, and personal characteristics, employment becomes a reality for all people. In order for schools to customize work experiences or post-school employment, the first step is getting to know the student. In the Individualized Career Planning Model we use the process of Discovery.


The Discovery

Discovery is a process used to get to know a student. Information about the student’s interests, strengths, environments or activities where they are at their best, supports that are effective for them, and present levels of performance, is gathered through a series of activities, interviews and observations. The process of Discovery intends to answer the question “who is this student” and provides direction to all career development activities. Information is gathered from people who know the student well. The person conducting Discovery spends time with the student at her home, at school, and in the community observing the student in both familiar and unfamiliar activities.

Information gathered through the Discovery process is then captured in a written format called the Vocational Profile for the purpose of sharing the information for job development. This information and picture of who the individual student is guides the selection or creation of school and community-based jobs. It is offered as an alternative strategy to more traditional or standardized forms of vocational evaluation.

20 Steps to Discovery form (.rtf file)
Observation Notes Form (WORD file)
Itinerary for Discovery Form (WORD file)
Discovery Questions (PDF file) by Michael Callahan
Discovery: Charting the Course to Employment Manual (purchasing information from Marc Gold & Associates)


The Vocational Profile

The Profile is the document in which the information gathered during Discovery is recorded. Vocational Profiles are an alternative to standardized vocational evaluations (Callahan & Garner, 1997; Rogan, Grossi & Gajewski, 2002). The benefit of using the Vocational Profile for a student with a more significant disability is that it provides concrete direction towards employment and provides a picture of the ideal conditions needed in an employment setting for the student to be successful. The Profile also provides information and examples of supports, accommodations or adaptations that a student currently uses to be successful within their environment. The Profile differs from a traditional vocational evaluation in that is does not numerically measure skills or abilities, compare the individual student’s performance against some standardized norm, or attempt to predict success or failure in regard to employment. Instead, the Profile describes a student’s performance and the supports that they need or use within familiar environments. This alternative assessment process does not weed students out of employment…it leads to the customization of their employment opportunities, which enables them to be successful. The ability to work in the community is presumed given the supports that the individual needs are in place.

The Profile and the IEP

The Individual Career Planning Model time lines suggest completing the Vocational Profile for students beginning at age 14 in order to use this information to guide transition planning, career exploration and vocational preparation. The information from the Vocational Profile compliments the IEP process in that strengths, preferences and interests are identified and support needs and successful accommodations are described. Through the Discovery and Profile process, the skills that a student needs to learn or become more proficient in within their home, community, recreation and leisure activities and employment are identified and thus form the goals for Transition Planning. Additionally, the Profile provides rich description of a student’s present levels of performance in relation to the environments and activities which are relevant in their lives. Some schools have begun substituting the Vocational Profile for some of the assessments which they had traditionally used to measure students’ capabilities because they have found that the Profile provides more meaningful information and a better indication of skills that a student needs to learn.

The Vocational Profile and the Profile Meeting
Using Discovery and the Vocational Profile Strategy
Profiles: Capturing the Information of Discovery Manual (purchasing information from Marc Gold & Associates)
Profile Forms, Samples and Guides from Marc Gold & Associates


Customized Employment Planning Meeting

After the information gathered during the Discovery process in captured and summarized in the Vocational Profile format, it is time to plan for employment. Whereas the Discovery and Profile processes answer the question, “Who is this person?”, the Employment Planning Meeting answers the question, “What will they do for work?”  The Planning Meeting is a structured group process which guides future job development activities. During the Planning Meeting, the information learned about the job seeker is compartmentalized into categories which become the customized guidelines or blue print for the job that will be sought or created.

The outcomes of the Planning Meeting will include:

  • The terms of negotiation for a job which the individual needs to be successful,
  • A summary of the person’s contributions which they can bring to an employer,
  • A list of tasks that you know the individual can perform,
  • And a prospecting list of specific employers in the person’s community whose business might: match the person’s conditions for employment, value the person’s contributions, and have a need for the tasks the person can perform.

Article on Employment Planning Meeting
Employment Planning Meeting Form
Sample Employment Planning Meeting form
Tips for the Employment Planning Meeting


Representational Portfolio

The Representational Portfolio is a marketing tool which job developers can use to represent job seekers to employers by making presentations on their behalf. The Portfolio is a pictorial representation of the individual’s contributions and capabilities. The Portfolio is comprised of two components. The first half of the Portfolio introduces the concept of Customized Employment to the employer, thereby paving the way for the job developer to negotiate the terms of employment to meet the individual’s necessary or ideal conditions to be successful. The second half of the Portfolio introduces the job seeker and shares information about their potential contributions to an employer through narrative and pictures. The information which is in the Portfolio is the information which was gathered during Discovery, captured in the Profile and summarized in the Employment Planning meeting.

Article on Representational Portfolios
Using a Visual Resume for Job Development (Microsoft Word format)
Portfolio Worksheet
Job Development Script
Middle School Portfolio Template


Job Development

Using a Visual Resume for Job Development (Microsoft Word format)
Job Development Script
Developing Vocational Themes Workbook (version 2; 2017) (Microsoft Word format)
Customized Job Development: Tactics For Tough Times