April 2024
SEEC (Seeking Employment Equality and Community), a service provider in Maryland, uses the College of Direct Support curriculum to train its direct support professionals.

SEEC (Seeking Employment Equality and Community), a service provider in Maryland, uses the College of Direct Support curriculum to train its direct support professionals.

How did a consortium of support services providers cut its turnover rate to 7 percent, in a field with an average rate of 41 percent? As with many successes, it began with education and training.

Using the College of Direct Support (CDS), an online curriculum developed at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration, the group built a training program for direct support professionals (DSPs) and frontline supervisors (FLS) that is viewed as a benefit, not simply a task.

“Our relationship with DSPs is based on the idea that everyone in the organization should have access to workforce development tools, including me,” said Karen Lee, director of SEEC (Seeking Employment Equality and Community), the Silver Spring, Maryland service provider that led the consortium. “The College of Direct Support is a critical component of our career pathway work.”

SEEC uses the online courses as a basis for further in-person discussion and training. The hybrid approach allows for live conversations about real-life situations to which DSPs and supervisors can relate, Lee said.

Collecting data on 487 DSPs who completed an intermediate training level in 2023, SEEC found that its turnover rate for that group was just 7 percent.

“In follow-up surveys after taking the course, DSPs say it made them feel invested in, that they know they are considered professionals,” Lee said. “It has a life-changing effect on how they do their jobs, and they feel as though they are part of a bigger group. Everyone is out supporting people in homes and in the community, and this helps them feel connected to something bigger.”

Every day, more than 5,000 professionals access DirectCourse lessons. DirectCourse is a collaboration between the Institute on Community Integration (ICI) at the University of Minnesota and Elsevier. It includes CDS which is for DSPs supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), and several other curricula. Each offers content relevant to the long-term services and supports (LTSS) workforce. Additional products include the College of Frontline Supervision, Management, and Leadership (CFSM ); the College of Recovery & Community Inclusion (CRCI ); and the Person-Centered Counseling (PCC ) training, which are all maintained by ICI. Two additional curricula are developed and maintained by partners at the University of San Francisco (the College of Personal Assistance and Caregiving - CPAC ) and the Institute on Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts (the College of Employment Supports-CES ).

ICI has been a leader in competency-based workforce development options for DSPs for nearly three decades. CDS was built as a best practice training solution around nationally validated competency sets and offers entry-level, intermediate, advanced, and specialty training. Each lesson is crafted using plain language and developed through a person-centered, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive lens, said Susan O’Nell, director of DirectCourse UMN curricula.

Using a carefully constructed instructional design process to create content that is not only technically accurate but also person-centered and competency-based on every page, sets DirectCourse content apart, O’Nell said. “All of the lessons in DirectCourse are developed with accessibility in mind and focus on meeting the needs of adult learners with different learning styles. Direct support competencies in services to people with IDD are complex and varied but rarely acknowledged as such.”

“There has been an evolution in supporting people with IDD,” said Barbara Kleist, co-director of DirectCourse and lead consultant for Direct Support Workforce Solutions, a national consulting group that helps organizations address workforce challenges. “There is sometimes an assumption that if you’re good at taking care of people – giving medications, providing personal care, and the like – you’ll be a strong DSP. The skills it takes to help someone live a meaningful life in the community, however, are much broader. Translating the complexities of daily life, helping navigate interpersonal relationships… these competencies are much more than caregiving.”

Robust training content tied directly to needed knowledge, skills and attitudes of the role, makes the difference between training as an afterthought and training that reduces turnover and provides better support for people with disabilities, says O’Nell. CDS helps with this by identifying competencies for each lesson and supporting hybrid training options and competency assessment through how the product is developed.

“When implemented properly, this training will give you good outcomes,” she said. “Competencies are at the core of quality. If you don’t have clarity about what professionals need to do, then you’re training for… what? When you connect competencies to the role and build on them, you are getting at what you truly need to in training. With this content, DSPs and others have a tremendous amount of support to help them apply best practices in their roles.”