Customized Employment Project

Blog on Customized Employment from LEAD Center

Customized Employment Tactics: Increasing Employment Opportunities by Job Developing Up the Supply Chain

By: Cary Griffin on September 27, 2013

Customized Employment (CE) represents a new service strategy choice for American Job Centers (AJCs) and their vendors. CE represents an opportunity to better serve AJC customers with complex barriers to work. CE is an especially useful tool for Workforce agencies operating U.S. Department of Labor-funded Disability Employment Initiatives (DEI), showcasing innovative methods of employment development. Of particular importance to AJCs and their vendors is Customized Employment’s departure from using traditional competitive employment strategies when approaching the labor market.

Customized employment is defined by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) as a means of individualizing the employment relationship between employees and employers in ways that meet the needs of both. It is based on an individualized determination of the strengths, needs and interests of the person with a disability, and is also designed to meet the specific needs of the employer. It may include employment developed through job carving, self-employment or entrepreneurial initiatives, or other job development or restructuring strategies that result in job responsibilities being customized and individually negotiated to fit the needs of individuals with disabilities. Customized employment assumes the provision of reasonable accommodations and supports necessary for the individual to perform the functions of a job that is individually negotiated and developed (Federal Register, June 26, 2002, Vol. 67. No. 123 pp 43154 -43149).

Practitioners of CE recognize the job seeker as the locus of job development information, and not the labor market. In other words, the employment process takes into account the person’s overall vocational desires, skills, interests and match to a worksite’s culture and demands. An individualized vocational profile, derived from functional information about the person’s work qualities, drives job development. For some systems, the CE approach is a departure from seeking job orders or searching for available openings; however, these more traditional approaches do not always work well for people with disabilities.

Today, many people with disabilities, who have little to no work history, find themselves directed to entry-level positions. This is how most of us start out in the working world. However, years of experience indicate that haphazard job matches lead to worker dissatisfaction and high job loss rates. Addressing this issue by determining a proper career starting point reduces costs and increases customer (i.e., job seeker and employer) satisfaction. Often it is assumed that job seekers enter the world of work by taking whatever the market offers in the way of work. But CE is rooted in a different philosophy. CE recognizes that when matched to an environment where workers share similar interests, natural training and mentorship are more likely to occur. Bypassing rigorous human resources screening measures pervasive in larger companies, and approaching very small companies that operate less formally, often with the owner making the hiring decisions, creates opportunities for skill building and career advancement.

Looking back on our first jobs, we may recognize that employers hired us despite our lack of experience and skills, but saw in us a willingness to learn, to show up and to contribute. Though our life’s work may not have been milking cows or waiting tables, our employers paid us while they trained us. Sometimes these entry-level jobs actually represented the start of our careers. Those of us interested in automotive pursuits may have sought out jobs at car washes, while those of us interested in education and children became camp counselors. There are unlimited ways to make a living and CE allows us to create opportunities in the weakest economies and even for those of us with underdeveloped skills or little work history.

Even at the entry level, searching out a job that teaches functional or artisanal skills is as easy as searching out one that is routine or irrelevant. A stereotypical job for individuals with intellectual disabilities of transition age, for instance, is grocery bagger. This is noble work for those who desire such employment. But, grocery bagging is likely not the job of choice for most people. It is, instead, the job that is available largely due to its high turnover rate and the minimal amount of technical instruction required. But what if a young person with a significant disability did have an emerging vocational theme pointing towards food or agriculture? How might job developing up the supply chain work?

The graphic at the end of this blog post is just one example of exploring strategic opportunities. Imagine for a moment again that the candidate is interested in food or agriculture. At the bagging or retail level, most of the skilled labor has already been invested in the product. Moving up the supply chain of the grocery store, however, opens up a host of other starting-point jobs, seemingly richer in the potential for learning skills and tasks that enhance one’s career opportunities. Moving from bagging to the wholesaler level reveals opportunities for using industrial equipment (e.g., fork lifts, packaging machines), grading produce, learning health and safety regulations and processes, repairing equipment perhaps, meeting customers in the supply chain (e.g., food processors, growers) and assorted logistical and customer service experiences.

Further up the chain is the producer level. Here we find the artisanal cheese makers, the charcuterie specialists, the weavers, the farmer’s market vendors, the bakers, the specialty cooks, the spice growers, and greenhouse operators. And beyond this, those enterprises providing the inputs – the farmers and ranchers. Supporting these businesses we find the veterinarians, heirloom seed processors, shepherds, breeders, biologists and botanists. In other words, in all sectors of the supply chain, beyond retail, we find skilled work performed alongside entry-level tasks, and the potential to learn from these tradespeople who are also often self-employed business owners. Moving up the supply chain generates ideas, contacts and reveals employment options often hidden from the retail sector too often visited by job developers.

Illustration used with permission from Griffin-Hammis Associates

[Description of Graphic: The above graphic entitled “Job Develop Up the Supply Chain” details how a given job is a starting point for identifying other possible employment opportunities up the supply or production chain. At the bottom, the graphic features a “retail” box identifying possible jobs at a grocery store such as opening boxes, bagging groceries or chasing shopping carts. If the job seeker is interested in working in food or agriculture, a job at a grocery store is only one employment option. Working backward up the supply chain of how food gets to a grocery store could identify additional employment opportunities for a potential job seeker. A box above “retail” is labeled “wholesaler level” and shows a photo of a warehouse operation that supplies grocery stores with food and products to sell. The “wholesaler level” box identifies potential job opportunities and needed skills such as packing boxes, value-added processing, logistics, transport and customer service. Another box above the “wholesaler level” identifies job opportunities or skills needed at a supplier to the grocery store wholesaler, in this case, “cheese making.” The “cheese making” box includes potential jobs available and skills needed from a job seeker at a cheese maker including cleanliness, chemistry, measuring, cooking, portioning, packing, business-to-business (B2B) sales and service. Above the “cheese making” box is a “goat farm” box and photo, featuring potential jobs and skills needed on a goat farm including milking, cleanliness, health and safety, feeding, maintenance, breeding and farm tasks. The box after the “goat farm” identifies related careers including growing grain, farming, weaving, butchering, cooking, veterinary services, ranching and farm and ranch maintenance. The graphic shows how it’s no harder to prospect up the supply chain towards more complex, skills-based and artisanal tasks, where natural trainers who share the job seeker’s interests abound.]

Cary Griffin is Senior Partner at Griffin-Hammis Associates, a full service consultancy specializing in building communities of economic cooperation, creating high performance organizations and focusing on disability and employment. Griffin is a subject matter expert for the LEAD Center and Griffin-Hammis Associates is a member organization of the TASH Collaborative national partnership working on the LEAD Center’s initiative of building capacity of American Job Centers (AJCs) to advance employment outcomes for jobseekers with disabilities by focusing on customized employment, self employment and blending and braiding of resources. Connect with Cary Griffin via email ( or via his website (

See the original blog post here.

Customized Employment Project Offers Hope

Video on Fox 11

University of Nevada Reno, Nevada Today article

By Nicole Shearer

“If you don’t have a disability, what’s your expectation? Is it okay to sit home, play video games and watch TV all day? We need the same expectation for a person with disabilities.”

This view from Scott Harrington, director of youth transition at the Nevada Center for Excellence in Disabilities (NCED), reflects his enthusiasm around getting people with disabilities involved in the community and in local businesses. His work with the Customized Employment Project, helps find Nevadans with intellectual and developmental disabilities employment that reflects their passion.

The Customized Employment Project, a partnership between the Nevada Rehabilitation Division at the Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation (DETR), Sierra Regional Center at Developmental Services, and the NCED, is a flexible process designed to personalize the employment relationship between a job candidate and an employer in a way that meets the needs of both. It is based on an individualized match between the strengths, conditions and interests of a job candidate and the identified business needs of an employer. Customized employment utilizes an individualized approach to employment planning and job development – one person at a time – one employer at a time.

“We start with each individual person and try to find out what their passion, skills and interests are,” Harrington said. “We then go into the community and try to carve something out where the business benefits.”

Businesses in our community have benefitted indeed. The Customized Employment Project has placed fourteen people in integrated jobs throughout our community where they are making a difference and earning competitive wages.

One of these people is Brian Marsh of Brian’s Music Conversion. Marsh is 39 years old and has a cognitive disability. His passion for music is clear. When asked about his favorite bands, Marsh couldn’t decide between The Beatles, Rolling Stones or Jimmy Hendrix.

Working inside Recycled Records, he has taken his passion and knowledge of music and turned it into a successful business by converting vinyl records, cassette tapes, 45s and reel-to-reel to digital formats, so people can listen to them on their computers, smart phones, iPods, etc. He provides customers a CD version of their music in a jewel case (including the artwork) and a flash drive with the digital version of the album. He also retains the copy of the music on his computer, in case the customer loses their file.

“We would receive requests from customers to help clean up an album of theirs and see if we could get the clicks and pops out of the record,” Recycled Records store owner Paul Doege said. “It was never a priority for us and something that would take us a while to get to. With Brian on board, customers get their requests met more quickly. We’re all about offering customers the highest quality product and for people who have vintage work that we can’t offer original copies of Brian helps get them what they need.”

“When I went to meet with him for the first time, his apartment looked exactly like Recycled Records,” Harrington said. “He is really knowledgeable about music and that’s what brought us here.”

Harrington and The Customized Employment Project worked with Marsh to start what became the effort’s first self-employment project. After completing a required 87-hour community-based assessment, where Marsh worked at Recycled Records stocking CDs and helping where he was needed, Harrington discovered the need for electronic music conversion in conversations with Doege. He leant Marsh his personal turntable and after seeing the potential, Harrington was able to assist Marsh in getting his business off the ground.

Others took notice. Marsh received an $8,000 grant from the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation which paid for his computer, headphones, turntable and other key expenses. He also worked with the Nevada Small Business Development Center, which helped him create a business plan and marketing materials including his logo, business cards, brochures and a website.

“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” Marsh said. “I get to listen to music all day.”

“Businesses we work with don’t hire people with disabilities because they feel obligated,” Harrington said. “It’s because they feel they offer a valuable and meaningful contribution to their business and I think that is exactly what makes this program so successful.”

The NCED is a unit of the University of Nevada, Reno College of Education. It serves as Nevada’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD). The UCEDDs were established and funded by the Developmental Disabilities Rights Assistance and Rights Act (DD Act). UCEDDs work to accomplish a shared vision that foresees a nation in which all Americans, including Americans with disabilities, participate fully in their communities. Independence, productivity and community inclusion are key components of this vision.

Governor Sandoval calls Executive Order

Click below to view the executive order Governer Sandoval ordered for workplaces to hire workers with disabilities.

ExecutiveOrder2013-10 copy

ePolicyWorks Employment First Video

Employment First Conduit thanks to ePolicyWorks


The ePolicyWorks collaborative out of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has made a very functional 26-minute video to inform viewers on Employment First policy and practices, and increase national participation. Anybody can participate and this will be the tool to make policy change in your region/state. Watch the video, join our group, and be active in making lasting, systemic changes that will increase integrated employment outcomes for persons with disabilities.


Click here to watch the video.

Reporting What Matters

Reporting What Matters – Strategies for Seamless Data Collection, Enhanced Performance Measurement, and Outcomes-Based Incentivizing across State Systems.” Was a webinar Dr. Scott Harrington was involved with recently. He is reporting on Nevada’s employment progression and other vital information to the changing world of employment.

KNPB: The Advantages of Hiring People with Disabilities

People with Disabilities at Work

This is a great piece by the local Northern Nevada Brent Boynton. He discusses customized employment and how to get involved and hire people with disabilities.

“People with disabilities constantly amaze us, and they’re amazing Nevada employers by bringing government money and surprising productivity to work with them. Host Brent Boynton talks with an employer, an employee and the people who run the state program that helps the disabled find employment.”

Enabled Nevada

Enabled Nevada

Enabled Nevada is a partnership between Nevada Assistive Technology Resource Center (NATRC) and the Nevada Center for Excellence in Disabilities (NCED). They offer assistive technology to those in need of it, including: voice recognition systems, digital magnifiers, Braille devices, and more. There are also articles about Scott Harrington, George McKinlay, and Stacy Bachtel, who can be seen in some of our videos.

They are located in the NCED office at the University of Nevada, Reno. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us or anyone in the project.

Like our Facebook Page!

We now have a Customized Employment Project Facebook account! Here you can find updates, events, and view photos from our project.

Community Business Partners

These are the employers who have worked with the people in our program. They have made a difference in our community and we want to show our appreciation. This list is always expanding and we are always in need of more businesses to help with our project. If your business is interested in being a community based assessment site or a job site, please contact us.

SIERRA REGIONAL CENTER                                                   ARROW ELECTRONICS INC.


starbucks                                      zephyr books


logo_wordmark         safewayLogo


recycled records




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