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The Influential Role of the Job Developer: Increasing Self-Determination and Family Involvement During the Job Search

Research to Practice Brief Issue #49


Institute for Community Inclusion
University of Massachusetts Boston
March 2011


Job developers can influence decision-making during the job search and placement process. For a study exploring the employment decisions of people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD), researchers interviewed 16 individuals with IDD, their family members, and professionals involved in their job search. Participants were asked what factors, circumstances, or people affected their decisions about work. The job developer was consistently named the most influential person in the job-search process.

The job developer affects not only the actual job outcome, but also the individual's job choices. The influence of the job developer also impacts the involvement of family and other supports in the job-placement process. This brief illustrates ways in which the job developer influences the placement process, and offers strategies for maximizing self-determination and family involvement.


Individuals perceived the job developer as the person responsible for job-finding. This perception limited opportunities for job seekers to assert their own choices.

Individuals often viewed their job developer as the person who was responsible for finding employment, relying on him or her to identify and choose a job. Even when individuals felt a strong sense of personal responsibility in the employment-search process, they always reported the job developer as being the person who was most responsible for job-finding.

The job developer also had a significant impact on whether or not an individual chose to accept a job. Employment professionals we interviewed said that when they enthusiastically presented a job opportunity, workplace environment, or set of tasks, the individual typically responded positively and wanted to accept the job offer. Therefore, staff set the tone for whether a job offer was acceptable or not based upon how they described the opportunity to the job seeker.

Because of this strong influence, some individuals felt they had limited choice in their job placement. In these cases, feelings of having limited choice were due to the belief that the responsibility for finding a job resided with the job developer.

On the other hand, when job developers exerted their influence in a way that maximized individual choice, the job seeker was empowered and actively engaged. This was the case for one individual, who after being given encouragement by her job developer, began making her own employment choices even when these choices were different from what her family wanted.

Families perceived job developers as experts, which affected their involvement in the job search and placement process.

Family members perceived job developers as having superior knowledge and skill in helping the individual to find employment, and relied on their expertise. Family members appeared to be more engaged in the process of career planning than the process of actually searching for a job. Several of them expressed an interest in being more involved, though they cited barriers to their involvement. These included: not wanting to be viewed as a hovering parent, limited communication from employment staff, and feeling as though they did not have the expertise to help search for a job.

On the other hand, a family's confidence in the job developer sometimes allowed the job seeker to exert more control over the process. Families were often comfortable with the way the job developer and job seeker were working together. This allowed the job seeker more control over their employment process.

Justin's Story

Justin is a young man in his late 20s, living near a large city. He has many interests and is bright and energetic. His parents are always involved and regularly check in on his progress finding a job. Justin's job developer describes him as "a good self-advocateā€¦he knows what he likes, he knows what he wants, and he will let you know if he doesn't like something." Justin, his family, and his job developer agree that they have a great working relationship. Justin and his family are confident in the job developer's skills and trust his advice.

Both Justin and his parents have expressed their desire for community employment for many years; even before he graduated from high school, they knew he wanted to work in the community. Despite this, Justin's job developer reported that after multiple assessments, he was not yet ready to work in the community. In fact, the job developer noted that with Justin, "You wouldn't even need to do an assessment to realize he wasn't ready." As a result, Justin has taken part in work crews and short-term internships, and participates in a sheltered workshop. He continues to work on his behavior and social skills.

Justin reported dissatisfaction with his job in the workshop, while waiting to be determined ready for a job in the community. When asked why he chose the workshop job, he explained, "This job I'm working at now was put onto me for now until I get a new job." He went on to say, "They stuck me into the sheltered workshop job." Justin's parents remain frustrated about the slow process of getting Justin into community work. They continue to remain very involved in supporting the work-readiness skills necessary for community placement as suggested by the job developer.

Questions to think about:

Recommendations for Practice

As both Justin's story and the current study's findings indicate, job developers are perceived as the ones responsible for leading the employment process. This can cause family members and individuals to rely on them, and perhaps allow the job developer to influence choices. Finally, job developers are seen as experts, which can limit individual and family engagement in the job-search process.

Based on these findings, we offer the following recommendations to job developers:

Maximize family engagement:

Maximize self-determination:


Job developers need to remain aware of the influence they can have on the job search and placement process. They must be careful to avoid leading the job search and diminishing job seekers' self-determination and family involvement. Through the recommendations in this brief, job developers can promote job seekers' involvement and their families' full participation in the job search and placement process.

This issue of Research to Practice is funded in part by cooperative agreement #90DN0216 from the Administration on Developmental Disabilities, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Points of view or opinions do not necessarily represent official Administration on Developmental Disabilities policy.

Recommended citation for this brief: Timmons, J. & Wolfe, A. (2011). The Influential Role of the Job Developer:Increasing Self-Determination and Family Involvement During the Job Search. Research to Practice Brief, Issue No. 49. Boston, MA: Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts Boston.

For more information, contact:

John Butterworth
Institute for Community Inclusion
UMass Boston

ICI: promoting inclusion for people with disabilities