Laura Heron, Ph.D., Florida International University; Valentina Bruk-lee, Ph.D., Florida International University

Individuals with developmental disabilities (DD) represent a significantly underutilized talent pool and often miss out on the benefits of meaningful work (Jahoda et al., 2008). As such, there is an urgent need for research that increases organizational readiness for the inclusion of this population (Gurchiek, 2019). The present study makes an important contribution to this effort by investigating the training needs of supervisors of employees with DD, informed from the perspective of multiple stakeholders representing supported employment and the hiring organization.

Arguably the most critical source of support for employees with DD is their supervisor, who is responsible for the ongoing management of employee wellbeing and performance (Meacham et al., 2017). However, to date, no research has established the specific skills and knowledge needed to effectively support employees with DD. This raises a critical issue, as a lack of skills or knowledge on behalf of the supervisor can result in a poor supervisor-employee relationship, which will negatively impact long-term employment outcomes (Stringer, 2006).

Methods: Author subject matter expertise and information gathered from seven interviews with five supervisors and two disability inclusion managers, informed the development of 79 task and knowledge statements representing different supervisor duty areas (see tables 1 and 2). Following Hennessey-Hicks (2011), a TNA survey was constructed in which participants rated each statement in two different ways: A) how important the statement was to a supervisor’s job managing an employee with DD (1 = Not at all important, 5 = Very important), and B) what the current level of supervisor performance (or knowledge) was for each statement (1 = Poor, 5 = Excellent). The survey was distributed to participants using listservs and direct outreach to employers and organizations.

Participants: The TNA survey gathered data from four groups: 1) workplace supervisors of employees with DD (n = 33), 2) non-supervisors with knowledge of the role that supervisors within their organization play in managing employees with DD (n = 13), 3) job coaches who directly assist individuals with DD to find and maintain employment (n = 30), and 4) service provider employees who work for an organization that provides services to individuals with DD (n = 37).

Data Analysis: All data collection and analysis for this study is complete. Using SPSS v.25 (IBM Corp, 2017), statements were ranked in terms of their average importance and performance/knowledge scores and paired sample t-tests were run to statistically compare A and B ratings. The Benjamini-Hochberg procedure was used to control for multiple comparisons by reducing the false discovery rate (Benjamini & Hochberg, 1995).

Across all participants, each statement received an average importance score of at least “moderately important.” Performance and knowledge ratings were often scored below “average” from the perspective of job coaches and service provider employees, whereas workplace supervisors and non-supervisors scored all task statements and most knowledge statements as above “average” in terms of performance/knowledge (see figure 1). All knowledge statements were identified as training needs across all four groups, as there was a significant difference between scores on importance and level of knowledge. For the task statements, 43 (out of 48) were identified as significant training needs by workplace supervisors, 25 were significant from the non-supervisor group, and all but one task statement represented a significant training need from the job coach and service provider employee perspectives (see tables 3 and 4).

The present study involved the identification of existing skill and knowledge gaps across various supervisor duties related to the management of employees with DD. These findings will be used inform the development of training programs that more effectively prepare supervisors and thus increase organizational readiness for inclusion. Findings also increase our understanding of the role of the supervisor, as all statements were considered at least moderately important, which can be used to inform the development of accurate job descriptions the hiring of supervisors who would do well in inclusive programs.

Given that data collection took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to note that recruitment of participants could have been impacted. For example, it is possible that respondents may reflect larger organizations who were able to remain open during the pandemic, and may not be representative of the range of organizations employing individuals with DD.

By informing the development of more holistic training programs, the present findings will help organizations facilitate a more positive employment experience for both supervisors and employees with DD. Hence, this effort will promote the long-term inclusion of this population in the workforce. It is vital that future research examines the effectiveness of training programs in addressing the identified skill and knowledge gaps, and investigates other ways in which organizations can build the internal infrastructure needed to promote the inclusion of people with DD.

Tags: Applicable to all occupations/industries, Applied research, Diversity and Inclusion in a Changing Workforce, Minority and Immigrant Workers, Organization- and Job-Level Environments and Practices, Organizational Practices