Project Name
Wisconsin Partners with Business Initiative

Type of practice
Emerging practice (new, innovative and hold promise)

Area of Emphasis 
Formal and informal community supports

Project/activity years 

Population of focus
People with intellectual and developmental disabilities
Service Providers

Strategies used 
Technical Assistance
Interagency Collaboration and Coordination
Barrier Elimination, Systems Design, and Redesign

Project Description
The Wisconsin Legislature established the Partners with Business Initiative (2017 Wisconsin Act 323) to assist businesses interested in hiring and employing people with disabilities. Each year the Council receives funding from the legislature to implement the technical assistance program. The Council awards grants (funding and technical assistance) to service providers, businesses, and schools to equip them to use natural supports or paid co-worker supports with employees with disabilities rather than relying on traditional job coaches.

The Council’s consultant provides training and technical assistance to the grantees. This includes training and coaching on supported employment best practices: finding the right job match, conducting a job and task analysis, using systematic instruction and fading, etc. It also includes educating and empowering employers; being clear about the job coach role to other staff and supervisors; developing natural supports; and, when needed, identifying and negotiating paid coworker support arrangements.

This project fulfills a number of pressing needs:
• There are not enough job coaches to support the number of people with disabilities who want to work.
• Service provider agencies need access to strong supported employment training and technical assistance for their staff. Many agencies follow an older model of job coaching that can result in both the employee with a disability and the employer becoming dependent on the job coach.
• Some employees with disabilities do not want a job coach with them as it sets them apart from their coworkers. Many employees with disabilities want to be as independent as possible.
• Businesses do not always want outside job coaches in their workplace.
• Businesses grow fatigued with the job coach turnover rate and the need to retrain new job coaches.
• Businesses have job openings they need to fill. They sometimes need support tapping into and supporting this niche of ready, willing, and able workers.
• More and more businesses have diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Hiring more employees with disabilities helps businesses grow their neurodiversity.

What was the impact (or impact-to-date) of the project/activity for people with ID/DD and their families?

The project’s impact extends to a number of parties:
• people with disabilities become more independent on the job and feel more connected to their co-workers and workplace;
• businesses see their employees with disabilities successful and independent on the job; and
• service providers build capacity by being more efficient and effective with their job coaching. This equips them to serve more people wanting to work.
• Medicaid cost savings: During 2021-2022, grantees demonstrated a 36% cost savings to Medicaid funded job coaching support through stronger partnerships with employers and the use of best practices in supported employment. Prior to implementing the strategies with their pilot participants, employees with disabilities received on average about 5 hours of job coaching per week. After the strategies were implemented, employees received on average about 3.2 hours of job coaching. This saves the Medicaid system on average $2,808 annually per person.

Story perspective
Person with ID/DD

What were things like BEFORE you/your family/partner/community participated in the project/activity?

In 2021-2022, one of our grantees, Goodwill of North Central Wisconsin (NCW), chose to utilize Partners with Business grant funding to build the capacity of their job coaches and the businesses they work with to create more effective solutions for on-the-job support. These solutions have resulted in people needing less job coaching support at work and Goodwill’s ability to get more people jobs. This has significantly reduced their waiting list for employment services.

Wisconsin, like most other states, is in the midst of a caregiver crisis. As a result, supported employment agencies are facing staff shortages and perpetual turnover. Vacant job coach positions resulted in a long waiting list for services for Goodwill NCW. While there were plenty of businesses hiring, there were no job coaches to provide initial training and ongoing support to new employees with disabilities. Goodwill originally focused their efforts on strategies to recruit more job coaches, but they came to realize that more should be done to support people to become independent on the job faster. This meant analyzing their current practices to determine areas to improve.

Goodwill NCW leaders and direct support professionals worked together to identify two areas of focus:
1) Creating a more effective task analysis document, following a consistent format, for their job sites; and
2) Reviewing and revising the messaging and handouts used with employers to convey new expectations for the role of the job coach. They began to communicate to employers that the job coach is temporary and has the primary role of consulting with the employer and coworkers about how best to include and support the new hire with a disability.

What are things like AFTER you/family/partner/community participated in the project/activity?

Goodwill of North Central Wisconsin’s efforts thus far have cut their waiting list in half. This means more job seekers with disabilities have access to the services they need to get the jobs they want. Job coaches receive more support to use best practices on the job; they use a new electronic case note format which includes documentation on the level of prompting provided by the job coach; and they have access to peer mentoring.

Goodwill NCW continues to evolve: they have several plans in process to continue their transformation, including:
• Continuing to improve their use of task analysis
• Using a Workplan Inclusion Checklist at each jobsite
• Learning from families about their fears and concerns about fading job coach supports
• Developing a handout for families to clarify the role of the job coach
• Continuing to provide additional training opportunities for staff
• Revamping their job coach onboarding to focus on competency-based training plans

What was most beneficial to you/family/partner/community from participating in this project or practice?

Here’s a story about one long-time employee with a disability who became independent on the job after years of job coaching.

Sam has been working at a restaurant for 31 years. He started there before he received services from Goodwill of North Central Wisconsin. When Sam started with Goodwill in 2011, he had full-time job coaching. Goodwill began a slow fadeout in November 2021 where they supported him every other shift: he’d have coaching on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and he’d be independent on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Then, in January 2022, they switched the coaching to Tuesdays and Thursdays with Sam independent the rest of the week. On March 14th, 2022, Sam was fully independent on the job with no job coaching support! He called his case manager each shift to report that he was at work and inside the building. Once Sam was comfortable calling his case manager and the strategy was working out well, the team supported Sam to only call if his supervisor was not onsite.

The role of the DD Council in achieving positive outcomes through this project.

After 4 years of implementing technical assistance grants, it is clear that when service providers use supported employment practices and focus on outcomes rather than job coaching hours, people work more hours and need less support. Through this funding from the legislature, the Council has been able to make gains in scaling up the use of these tools across the state.

Partners with Business continues to gain support with service providers, managed care organizations, and state agencies. The following actions will help embed and sustain Partners with Business best practices long term:
-The Council’s contractor continues to work with the WI Department of Health Services on the Partners with Business waiver service definition.
-A managed care organization is working to develop its internal structure for authorizing paid coworker supports.
-Another statewide MCO funds paid coworker supports throughout their service provider network.
-The WI Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) officially implemented Partners with Business in the technical specifications. DVR reported in 2021 that they have put in place at least 5 paid coworker support arrangements.
-In addition, the Council is seeing service providers involved with Partners with Business implementing best practices across their agency.

Contact Information
Name: Molly Cooney
Phone: (608) 266-0266
Council location: Wisconsin