Our organization shuttered sheltered work (14c) services in 4 counties from 1999-2003. We continue to operate 3 manufacturing locations; however, we did not use 14c certificates. The process began with identifying the "fears" of individuals served, family/guardians, and our own team members. We found that often staff fears and staff convenience were dictating the choice to continue with sheltered work/14c services. Individuals received sheltered work services were asked to apply for open position within our 3 existing production facilities. A handful determined they wanted to work in our operations, and 5-10 individuals were eventually hired agency wide. We began exploring a community immersion approach in 1991 by forming a change management team. We determined that closure of sheltered work services was necessary to our transition in 1995, and we no longer allowed new enrollments in sheltered work services. We began working with 180 sheltered work service recipients to identify "next steps" in 1995-96 while our change management team began to develop a vision of "what's next". Lessons learned:
1) Meeting with individuals one-on-one to address their fears/concerns and develop a person-centered approach was quite effective.
2) The majority of individuals were not "tied to the work". They either liked the social connections, or their family members felt sheltered work services met the need of "a place to go 35-40 hours/week."
3) Don't look at how can we place 180 people all at one time-- the individuals didn't enter sheltered work all in the same month. Place one person at a time!
4) Don't focus on "closing an option", focus on "what's next". Focus on the individual's personal goals and identified needs. What was sheltered work (14c) fulfilling for them. You must address the "need" and desired outcomes.
5) Discovery/Exploration is critical. Individuals don't know what they don't know.
6) Change/transition was difficult for those who had received sheltered work services for 20+ years. We allowed these individuals to remain in sheltered work services until closure of the service/program, and then, we utilized 14C certificate for those who were hired in our manufacturing facility and had very low rates of productivity (2-3 individuals).
7) Internal communication is key.
8) Accept that there will be turnover. Not everyone will be able to get on board.
9) Sheltered work services provided stable income for our organization; therefore, the structure/design of our new service delivery model was critical.
10) Some individuals may not be successful in community employment; however, sheltered work (14c) didn't work for everyone either. Accept that there is no perfect solution that fits everyone's needs. Perhaps more focus is need on discovery and other interests.