Moving Beyond “Place, then Train”

Moving Beyond “Place, then Train”

When supported employment first challenged the status quo of sheltered work over 25 years ago, the mantra was that it represented a shift in thinking. It was a movement away from Train and Place to its opposite, Place, then Train. That pithy quote helped to convey and crystallize the philosophical evolution taking place. Waiting to place someone until he or she is ready, based on training in a sheltered workshop, was just not working. For one thing, it took way too long for those few that managed to even get jobs. Researcher Tom Bellamy estimated that, based on average placement rates at the time, it would take over 55 years for someone to have a real job opportunity.

But in today’s world, Place, then Train has its own shortcomings. For too long, employment professionals have worked to find any available job opening, put job seekers in there, and then try to train for all expected tasks. This approach is not only over-simplified, it causes poor quality work outcomes. While getting any job was an improvement over a life of segregated work, it still too often missed the mark for good wages, social inclusion, longevity, and personal satisfaction.
So where should we go from Place, then Train? Something more like Plan, Match and Support. Still simplified, to be sure, but this is a more sophisticated take on job success. Jobs for people with employment challenges need to be customized to fit their skills, interests, and needs. And employers need workers who meet their task needs, fit in socially, and are motivated. Simply put, this requires individualization that includes all three components. 
Plan has two elements. It refers to the preparation required for a good job match that focuses on the two key customers, job seekers and employers. Career Planning for a job seeker means vocational assessment, using situational and and natural environments, and developing such things as self-representation skills, job experiences, portfolios, visual resumes, and interview skills. Employer Planning begins with employer research, and involves various strategies of employer engagement, leading to networking, and then very specialized job development for customized tasks and settings.
Match and Support take the place of Placement and Training. Placement implies something we do to people, rather than assisting workers with disabilities to be hired successfully. Matching is a more facilitative approach. Like a good headhunter or dating service, you want to bring together people and workplaces where there is a good fit, then help make the magic happen by negotiating a Job Match. This includes job analysis, customization of tasks, and helping arrange accommodations and other needs. Once a job has been brokered, workplace Support and training strategies focuses on natural supports and building co-worker relationships to facilitate learning and assistance from within the work environment. This is quite different from traditional job coaching. Instead, it involves utilizing employment specialists to facilitate training, rather than being the sole source of instruction.
When presenting this approach, there are often a range of worries from staff, including the time required to do the planning. And yes, in the real world, shortcuts and priorities often must happen. But the level of planning accomplished relates to both the probability of success and level of quality. In a future blog post, I will discuss the ways to prioritize and build teamwork such that we don’t sacrifice quality and revert back to Place and Train, because that too often turns into Place and Pray, which is no way to ensure high rates of job success.


Jim MacNaughton

I agree- great time to reexamine the model. The basic supported employment model has not essentially changed in 20+ years, minus a few tweaks here and there. In a time that so many organizations are evolving and adapting, I personally find it surprising that the SEMP model has remained relatively stagnant.

Anecdotally it seems that there has been little progress as a result. In New York for example, it is about 1K people into supported employment and 1K out every year – 0 net gain.

Angie Baack

Dale, Our agency has had a shift in thinking and we have moved many people out of our workshops and into the community. We find it always works best when we, as you suggest, facilitate training rather than be the sole provider of the training. I do have one question though. I feel like customized employment is a little like an ice sculpture- you take a block of ice and create this beautiful thing out of it, but are left with all these extra pieces. Employers need employees to do various things and when we customize the job description to fit the wants and needs of our clients, they are left with these other tasks that still need to be done. They then decide to hire someone else who can complete every task on the job description. How can we mitigate that?

Jason Weppelman

I’ve thought for awhile that the term “Place then Train” was a horrible misnomer. I understand they are trying to ensure that people are not stuck in perpetual “training” with no advancement towards employment. But PTT sounds as if your asking employers to hire someone who doesn’t have the skills and then hope they can be a valuable employee after the fact.

Angie brings up a great point and the biggest challenge to employment. Employers more then ever need people who can do multiple tasks. Bussing jobs now have at least 7 different duties. Our job seekers need to not only know how to do these jobs, but when to do them.

We need more conversations like this that explore real world vs. our systems. Customized employment can work for a person here and there. But it’s not the solution for most. CE is a real possibility for many. But they/we need to understand the realities of working with businesses.