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i. 2. Plan for Recruitment, Preparation and Retention of Qualified Personnel

Describe the development and implementation of a plan to address the current and projected needs for qualified personnel including, the coordination and facilitation of efforts between the designated State unit and institutions of higher education and professional associations to recruit, prepare, and retain personnel who are qualified, including personnel from minority backgrounds and personnel who are individuals with disabilities.

Current Narrative:

In 2014, VR began a comprehensive restructuring of the field services staffing model to improve the quality of service provided to our participants. The addition of a new VR Case Coordinator role helped to ensure that the VR Counselor role is focused primarily on rehabilitation counseling and guidance. Further restructuring included the addition of 7 working lead VR Counselors to help cover caseloads tied to vacant positions and mentor newly hired VR Counselors. VR further shifted its staffing model in 2017 by shifting VR Counselors to either a designated role of performing intakes/application and eligibility/disability priority determination, or a designated role of IPE development and service planning/implementation and placement. All of these changes increased job satisfaction and created advancement opportunities, and the latter change improved efficiency and timeliness of eligibility determination and IPE development, and allowed for improvement in eligibility and disability priority determinations. Since implementing all of these changes, staff retention has improved substantially, from over 50% turnover of VR Counselors down to about 30%.

VR periodically conducts needs assessments with staff to identify training priorities. VR continues to support a designated staff member who coordinates the provision of training for VR staff statewide. Area Supervisors and Itinerant (working lead) VR Counselors also provide one-on-one mentoring as do seasoned VR Counselors.

VR in partnership with the Center on Community Living and Careers, Indiana Institute on Disability and Community Indiana University Center of Excellence (CCLD/IIDC) continues to support and enhance a web-based training program, called the VR Leadership Academy, for continuous improvements and increased effectiveness. This program will be explained in more detail below.

Initiatives within VR that may further improve staff retention included allowing options for flexible staff scheduling and alternative work schedules to allow staff to work longer days, but work 1 day less per pay period.  Of significant note is that the VR Counselor salary was increased in 2019 by over $4,000 and current VR Counselors received a percent increase of 10-13%. VR also created a new position in 2019 called a VR Counselor Trainee. While in this position, newly hired staff complete a 9-month training period.  Once this 9-month period is over, and staff have made satisfactory progress as formally evaluated by the Area Supervisor, the VR Counselor Trainee promotes to a VR Counselor and receives a salary increase to the new minimum salary of the VR Counselor position. Additionally, the ongoing efforts to increase communication and training across VR are anticipated to continue to assist with improving retention. This includes ongoing weekly Field Operations Blast email of all changes or important notes for the week, quarterly statewide supervisor meetings, monthly regional management meetings, monthly field staff training webinars, new supervisor trainings, regional field visits, and other opportunities to bring staff together within the region or state. In September 2017, BRS held 4 regional 1 day VR Symposiums for all VR counseling staff, case coordinators, Area Supervisors, Region Managers, and Central Office staff to come together for the purpose of training and collaboration. Additionally, Field Region Managers are an integral part of biweekly Leadership Team meetings and give essential input on policies, training needs, new initiatives, priorities, etc. The VR Commission honors staff annually by presenting awards to four outstanding VR staff who are nominated by their peers.

VR continues to offer counselors and support staff opportunities to participate in special agency projects outside of their regular work routines, which sends the message that leadership values and desires the input of field staff. As an example, numerous field staff participated in the development and implementation of a new VR Case Management system and a VR Claims Payment system over the past two years, serving in a variety of capacities such as testing, piloting, SuperUser, trainers, etc.

VR has a long-standing history of hiring qualified candidates from minority backgrounds as well as individuals with disabilities for all BRS positions, including VR Counselors, support staff, and management roles. The Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), the agency in which DDRS/BRS sits, has an Affirmative Action plan that includes FSSA’s policy on Affirmative Action, recruitment strategies, identifies responsible parties for implementation and monitoring, and addresses FSSA’s progress toward meeting goals for new hires. Outreach strategies include recruitment activities at events such as Indiana Black Expo as well as events at local universities such as job fairs and advisory board meetings. VR Counselors also share openings as appropriate with VR participants and VR has hired several former participants into VR positions, including VR Counselor positions.