Posted on December 13, 2022
By Kevin Walker, Penn-Mar Consulting, Business Development Director, and Tricia Zeltwanger, Penn-Mar Career Counselor
Just as the national Employment First movement has grown exponentially over the last two decades, so too has Penn-Mar and its success in providing Competitive Integrated Employment (CIE) services to men and women with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Success has meant connecting several hundred individuals we support with meaningful and rewarding employment, and the opportunity to be active and contributing members of their communities.
When we launched our Customized Employment (CE) program more than 13 years ago, little did we imagine that today we would be sharing our knowledge and expertise with regional and national providers and their staff as consultants, educators, and trainers. As a prime example, this December marks the first full year that we have been providing Association of Community Rehabilitation Educators (ACRE) certificate training in Maryland, through an exclusive partnership with Maryland Works, the statewide membership association that expands employment and business ownership opportunities for people with disabilities. To date, through our partnership with Maryland Works, we have provided ACRE training to staff from 55 different organizations and have issued 89 ACRE certificates.
Proudly, our training experience has opened the door to ACRE projects in other states including California, Delaware, D.C., Oklahoma, and soon launching in Pennsylvania.
Employment First: A little background
The U.S. Department of Labor describes Employment First (EF) as “a systems-change framework centered on the premise that all individuals, including those individuals with the most significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in Competitive Integrated Employment and community life.”
Over the years, many states, like Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware have officially committed to the Employment First framework through legislation and executive proclamation. The EF directive is that employment in the community is the primary option for people with disabilities, and that publicly funded agencies are advised to align their policies and reimbursement structures to commit to CIE.
To increase and improve CIE outcomes, staff development has become key, and increasingly more states are requiring providers and their staff to have the certificates and credentials to effectively provide integrated employment services. The two national organizations that lead this charge are The Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) and ACRE.
APSE is the only national organization exclusively devoted to Employment First, through policy and advocacy, professional development, and sharing best practices and tools. They offer a Certified Employment Support Professional (CESP) credential, which Penn-Mar, through its ACRE training, prepares trainees to obtain.
ACRE training and why take it
ACRE serves as a Community of Practice (CoP) for trainers and educators in the field of employment for people with disabilities. It provides competency, skill-based training, and education to deliver community-based employment services through certified trainers. To date, more than 14,000 ACRE Certificates of Achievement have been issued nationally.
Penn-Mar is one of only twenty-seven organizations in the country that provides ACRE training. Getting our curriculum developed and endorsed by the organization was a year-long process. Our training, which emphasizes Customized Employment, was developed with TransCen, and includes 40 hours of classroom instruction and activities, as well as field assignments all based on four modules:
Our Penn-Mar-centric curriculum shares our best practices, tools, processes, and success stories that we have used since we developed our CE program more than a decade ago.
Here are a few reasons for providers to get their team members trained in ACRE:
What we’ve discovered in this year of ACRE training at Maryland Works is that some people didn’t have any experience doing job development. For example, they didn’t think they would be successful at it. Now, with the tools and knowledge in hand, they are going out and getting people employed as part of the course and we are all very excited about it.
We’ve also discovered that people are surprised at how open employers are to Customized Employment, especially since the pandemic. But to be successful with an employer, trainees must do the legwork, which entails learning everything they can about the employer and their needs. The whole process has motivated people to become more engaged with confidently approaching businesses to create community partnerships.
As our ACRE training has taken off, we have added more trainers to our team. Every week we get emails from organizations across the country inquiring about our services. What that tells us is that Employment First is here to stay, and every day more and more people with disabilities are finding their rightful place in their communities through meaningful employment.