Customized Employment – A Unique Opportunity for Partnership
Customized Employment (CE) is a relationship between business partner and a job seeker that is designed to meet the needs of both parties. It is a universal employment strategy and is especially useful for employment seekers with
substantial barriers to employment, as a result of a significant disability. In alignment with the principles of Employment First, which presume all employment seekers with disabilities can work, CE is an approach that can
facilitate and result in such an employment outcome. 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 work of Employment First in Michigan is focused on bridging the
gap between the system of employment service delivery as it is currently designed, and the raised level of expectations and possibilities that must comprise our future.

A list of Essential Elements of CE has been developed, through technical assistance centers funded by the Department of Education, Rehabilitation
Services Administration; issued in June 2017, it is titled The Essential Elements of Customized Employment for Universal Application, and can be found at the
following link:

Customized Employment is an allowable service under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). It is defined as a flexible process designed to personalize the employment relationship between an employment
seeker and business in a way that meets the needs of both. It is based on an individualized match between the strengths, conditions, and interests of an employment seeker and the identified needs of the business partner. It is
person-centered in nature and inclusive of a demand driven perspective through negotiation of job duties and value creation for business. Michigan’s Vocational Rehabilitation agencies, Michigan Rehabilitation Services
and Bureau of Services for Blind Persons, are partnering with Michigan’s Employment First stakeholders and service providers in launching a pilot CE project in 2019, with Phase I occurring in southeast Michigan. This step
advances the vision of CE, under the Employment First Capacity Building framework, as an employment strategy to assist job seekers with disabilities statewide. Michigan VR is fully committed to the pilot efforts and, based on
evidence of effectiveness, the expansion of CE services. This will involve crossagency partnerships, a critical alliance with community rehabilitation organizations, and a bold initiative to build capacity to deliver on this promise.
As the pilot develops, through the initial and subsequent phases, evaluation will be conducted and adjustments made as necessary.

On May 1, an orientation session was conducted to provide an overview of CE, the geography of the Phase I pilot region, introduction of the prospective team members from both the public and private sector, and subject matter expertise
on CE service delivery. Fee schedules and a fidelity scale for the Discovery process were also discussed; the intent of this orientation was to clarify
expectations for stakeholders who will commit to pilot participation.

The staff training component of the pilot was also outlined; the contractor selected to deliver this training, and the facilitator for the orientation session, is Griffin Hammis Associates. For VR staff, the training will be a 1-day focused
session specifically for MRS and BSBP counselors, offered on July 16, to provide an overview and benefits of CE; detail how CE can expand resources, strategies, and tools available when providing high quality rehab services; and
establish guidelines and expectations for supporting CE service delivery. Specific focus will be placed on referrals and VR Counselor roles and responsibilities throughout the process. For community rehabilitation staff, there
will be an intensive, 5-day (40 hour) training, offered on July 17-18, and August 19-21; to ground all participants in best-practice CE service delivery;
participants who complete all training requirements will earn an Association of Community Rehabilitation Educators (ACRE) certificate; and CRO staff will develop knowledge and basic skills to deliver CE services.

In addition, a 1-day training will be offered on August 22 on administering a Discovery Fidelity Scale (DFS), to ensure that CE services are delivered with
fidelity to best-practice, followed by a 1-day implementation debrief session 4-6 weeks after the initial training. The anticipated outcome is a network of DFS Administrators equipped to reliably use the DFS as a means of assessing
fidelity implementation, preventing fidelity drift, and providing substantiated feedback and guidance to CROs delivering CE services. Individuals selected to be responsible for administering the DFS typically include representatives from
funding agencies (MRS, BSBP, CMH), and CRO leadership. Not all elements of this project are currently defined. CE is an emerging best practice; the referral volume of job seekers has thus far not been conclusively determined; and the reimbursement model is not firmly established. But there is a strong commitment to an equitable fee structure, and recognition that capacity cannot be sustainably built without subject matter expertise, a framework for
fidelity in service delivery, a flow of job seeker referrals to provide a return on the capacity building investment, and fair and equitable reimbursement models to support the desired outcome. A framework for the fee structure will be
discussed on May 1; Michigan VR has access to Technical Assistance and support through ODEP and WINTAC; establishing reasonable methodologies for rate development will be further supported by a contractor with experience in
this process; and stakeholder input will be offered through consideration of provider cost analysis data. This is an excellent opportunity for partnership, with
collaborative stakeholders committed to success.

Todd Culver
May 3, 2019