The Kansans Mobilizing for Direct Support Workforce Change Project (KMFC) focuses on improving the recruitment and retention of direct support professionals (DSPs) who work with people with developmental disabilities. Turnover of DSPs is unacceptably high. Kansas, with an average annual turnover rate of over 50%, shares a problem seen nationally. Turnover affects the lives of people with disabilities. High turnover is associated with poorer outcomes for persons served in safety, inclusion, feelings of well-being. Additionally, it is a waste of time and money to hire and train DSPs who have only short tenure. Kathy Olson, Patty Black Moore, and Kelly Perry staff the multifaceted KMFC project. Strategies and resources utilized by KMFC were developed by collaborating research partners at the University of Minnesota.
Fifteen community service providers have been involved with the project over the past 2 years, addressing issues related to recruitment, retention, training, and enhancing the status of DSPs. Representatives from participating organizations along with other Kansas stakeholders comprise the advisory committee that directs KMFC. This year they will expand their involvement by providing training and meeting with other community providers to encourage them to implement strategies available for little or no cost through the project. One participant spoke of the benefits of the project:
The best benefit to our organization was the excellent materials that were provided to us FREE. Our job was to understand how the tool could be used and then decide if it was something that we wanted to implement within our own organization. Then we decided how and when we wanted to implement it. Even though there is a time commitment involved to be part of a project like this, you have benefits that will be long lasting – ultimately a better and more stable workforce.
Attracting the right people for a DSP position is a key factor in reducing turnover. A substantial amount of turnover occurs during the first 6 months after hire. Several KMFC interventions target recruitment and hiring. A marketing toolkit includes templates for ads, flyers, and brochures that target specific untapped audiences (e.g., retired individuals, students, immigrant workers, homemakers). A realistic job preview helps applicants become aware of the job challenges and rewards prior to accepting a position. KMFC developed a realistic job preview video/DVD featuring direct support professionals sharing their experiences and providing a realistic picture of the good and bad parts of their jobs. Viewing a RJP can help potential job applicants decide if the job "is for them" before completing the application process. Structured interview strategies can assist human resource personnel in identifying the best job candidates. The right applicant may take longer to find, but the investment is worth it. A 2-day training, Removing the Revolving Door, provides training in these hiring strategies as well as other approaches to improve the skills of frontline supervisors. The resources and training sessions will be available to every Kansas service provider during the next year. Peer Empowerment, which addresses mentoring strategies, and the Power of Diversity, focusing on supporting a culturally diverse workforce, will also be offered to all Kansas service providers.
Training DSPs is also important. The College of Direct Support (CDS) is online multimedia training developed by national experts for DSPs. Currently there are 13 courses. KMFC has customized the content for Kansans. CDS is available to service providers and other Kansans who self-direct services. The ability to access training any time, anywhere makes training readily available, avoiding scheduling and travel nightmares while providing quality training. One supervisor observed changes in a DSP who enrolled in CDS:
I have seen some changes in how she delivers services. I think the pilot project has opened her eyes as she is able to look at situations differently with every lesson completed. I think she sees what people are capable of doing as opposed to what they are not able to do. The project has given her a different mindset and I hope she can convey that to her co-workers. She is more open to new ideas and is willing to come up with new and exciting activities so that those we serve are receiving the best services possible.
A representative from the Department of Labor is working with KMFC to develop apprenticeship standards for direct support professionals. Two organizations have piloted a credentialing program for DSPs with the first cohort achieving certification in September. Certification will be expanded during the next year. In addition to developing the standards, the project is developing a state review process.
A newly formed chapter of the Kansas Alliance of Direct Support Professionals is also enabling DSPs to develop their professional identity. Patty Black Moore is putting the finishing touches on their website.
A highlight of the KMFC project was when Governor Sebilius proclaimed July 20, 2004 as Kansas Mobilizing for Direct Support Workforce Change Day.
The first 2 years of the project, funded by the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities, was a collaborative relationship between KUCDD, the University of Minnesota, Human Resources Research Institute, and MC Strategies. In this third year, the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation will fund KUCDD to continue and expand the initial work.