Well-trained and skilled employment support professionals are key to moving the needle forward for disability employment outcomes.

Some states are using the Certified Employment Support Professional™ (CESP) credential as a tool to set benchmark requirements or provide incentives to staff who earn it. The roundtable discussions held by the Development Committee in October aimed to bring together state agencies and funders.

The Development Committee was formed to support the CESP Credential by conducting research. This includes conducting interviews to gather information and data from state partners, such as Vocational Rehabilitation Directors, and other funders. The CESP program is the first in the nation to create national guidelines to validate and support the training currently provided to Employment Support Professionals (ESP’s).

CESP logo.

Professionals certified as Certified Employment Support Professional™ (CESP)  have demonstrated a sufficient level of knowledge and skill to provide integrated employment services to a variety of populations.

Link: CESP™ Credential Holder Directory Search by state!


Report Outs by State

For the full Roundtable Report and the chart of state responses, click the button to download the PDF from APSE.

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Representatives from 18 states participated in the October 2021 discussions.

The states involved were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia.

Participants included state-level decision-makers and representatives with Vocational Rehabilitation; Intellectual Disability/Autism Services; Mental Health/Substance Abuse Services; and University Centers on Disabilities.

There were also current credential holders (CESPs) in attendance that spoke to their state requirements, as well as the experience of holding the credential and working in the field. Participants shared that individuals often hold dual roles, whether they serve as a manager of an employment team and also hold their CESP or serve on an APSE chapter board and work for state entities.

Hear from CESPs: How have you used the CESP to provide career opportunities and professional development?

Neil, Maryland - Credentialing/certification shows they are specialists in the area and can be a layer that does not require a degree. You can start with a high school diploma, get the credential, and be qualified. Employers are surprised by the certification when working with employers to discuss services. It’s a great talking point. They use it on business cards and in email signatures. It says the employees are qualified and that the employers are receiving qualified people. It offsets the requirements of the job.

Carly, Massachusetts - The certification is a feather in our cap. The credential is a great tool to tell employers about.

Lorie, Arizona - Listen to a podcast with Lorie! The CESP is good for talking with families. The credentials can be used to demonstrate experience to families. When you hire a CESP it’s nice to know they have a working model of what their idea of employment is.

How have states started that process?

Brittany, New Mexico UCEDD - Listen to a podcast with Brittany! Prior to the settlement in New Mexico, we did not have employment training. Now it is required for the state to provide employment training for people with disabilities.

“We pulled stats from last year and found the folks that took the courses had 93% pass rate on the CESP exam, previous years without the college of employment services had 82% pass rate - now mandated to take courses first if you want to be supported through the state.”

Bernie, South Dakota VR - Our process in South Dakota was director initiated. We needed to reduce turnover rates in the state. The director sent out a memo about reimbursing the certification rate. In addition, a fee schedule was published to market the increased fees for services if certified. Continuing education is promoted at conferences and CEU’s are offered for monthly training with providers.

Orange magnifying glasInterested in learning more about competency initiatives at the state level? Learn more online:
My state is considering a competency requirement, what now?

Questions for Discussion

The Committee held roundtable discussions in October 2021. These were offered virtually using the Zoom platform. Breakout rooms were utilized to drive discussion and allow participants to share examples from their own states. Sessions were 90 minutes in length and held on October 5, 7, 12, and 26, 2021. An introduction to the CESP Credential was provided by National APSE Certification Director Kari Tietjen.

State agencies and Funders:

  1. What are states doing for credential or competency requirements?
  2. Why would state agencies want to have competency requirements for employment support professionals?
  3. If you require credentials, what was the process like to add that requirement. What went well? What can be learned by other states?
  4. If you don't have requirements, what does your state need to support employment support professionals?

Providers of Employment Supports:

  1. Who are you connected to for funding? What requirements do they have?
  2. How have you used the CESP to provide career opportunities and professional development?
  3. What incentives do you provide to staff who become credentialed?
  4. If you are a CESP, what was the incentive to get it, from your perspective?

During the last session on 10/26, where a portion of attendees had been present during the earlier roundtables offered, different questions were developed to continue the conversations.

Last (10/26) Session Updated Questions

  1. What are the training and/or credential requirements for employment support professionals in your state? Are there differences across funders/ state agencies?
  2. What available training is there? (state, local, and provider level)
  3. Are you measuring the outcomes of employment services? If so, how?
  4. Are you seeing any patterns or trends among employment providers who tend to have higher outcomes?
  5. What are you seeing with employment personnel in your state? Hiring? Retention? Impact on persons served? Any challenges or needs?
  6. Are you seeing new demands for employment personnel?

Question Marks on Paper CraftsQuestions Brought Up By the Group for Future Discussion:

  • How do you get a credential like CESP covered if it is written in as a requirement without funding?
  • Is anyone tracking the data around people who are certified and how long they are staying?
  • How do we better track outcomes? Closure rates are just one method.
  • Do employment support professionals fall under the category of “Direct Support Professional”?
  • One thing we learned from the pandemic is that one person is filling multiple rolls now. How are employers using staff in multiple ways? How can the credential support this?
  • Many states are seeing a lot of turnover of staff. Retention of staff is on average 18 months but can be as little as 6 months. How do we get them trained during this time period and get the most out of them?

Thank you to the CESP Development Committee for their work!

Learn About Other APSE Programs:

Recruiting Now! Emerging Leaders Training for mid-level managers and Rising Stars Training for direct support professionals.

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