Agency Workforce Outlook
- DSB’s targeted positions and classifications for specialized outreach and recruitment include Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors, Assistive Technology Specialists, Orientation and Mobility Specialists/Rehabilitation Teachers and Fiscal staff.
- Challenges that DSB faces in recruitment include prerequisite education and specialized skills needed to perform the duties of most positions that make up the Vocational Rehabilitation and Youth Services programs, and not being able to offer competitive salaries at the State level.
- Additionally, as a smaller agency, DSB administrative and fiscal employees are compelled to be more flexible in their job duties than similar types of positions at larger agencies. Rather than performing rote and repetitive tasks for the majority of their work activities, our administrative and fiscal positions take on a lion’s share of “other duties as assigned”.
- Another recruitment challenge stems from the fact that Washington State lacks local training programs for both Rehabilitation Teachers/Orientation & Mobility Specialists and ASL Interpreters for Deaf and Deaf Blind individuals. Without local training avenues, recruitment of Rehab Teaching staff is challenging, and the agency relies primarily on recruitment of out-of-state training program graduates to move into the state.
- The high cost of living, especially in the Puget Sound Region, frequently dissuades a prospect from accepting a position in Washington State. It is a challenge to be able to establish a new home in the cost- prohibitive Puget Sound region at the salary we are able to offer our specialized staff.
- While the agency was able to secure promotional opportunities for all of our job classes in the past four years, and the state secured a regional pay increase for King County employees, the increase in pay is still well below national standards and that of our main competition (the Veterans Administration and K-12 system) for hire of these positions.
- DSB is focusing on a need for knowledge transfer and succession planning as we see 37% of our skilled staff approaching retirement age within the next ten years. DSB is creating desk manuals and mentorship opportunities for positions anticipated to have turnover.
Diversity in Recruitment, Hiring and Promotions
Based on responses received in a recent update of Employee Affirmative Action and Diversity Data
- 60% of the DSB workforce identifies as female,
- 37% identifies as male and
- 3% identifies as unspecified/non-binary.
The average age of the DSB labor pool is 50 years, with an average tenure with the state of 10 years.
Employees who responded yes to identifying as LQBTQIA+ represent approximately 8% of DSB’s staff population, while 30% responded no, and 62% did not declare a sexual orientation.
Of the employees who responded to questions on Race/Ethnicity, the agency’s staff self-identifications included:
- 1% Native American
- 1% Hawaiian/Pacific Islander
- 3% two or more races
- 5% Asian
- 5% Latinx
- 6% Black or African American
- 27% of staff did not report identification with a particular race or ethnic group
- 60% White or Caucasian
DSB is working towards increasing outreach to and recruitment within diverse populations across a broad spectrum of training programs, certification boards, listservs and affiliated agencies and other community partners to ensure qualified candidates are representative of Statewide demographics. DSB will review diversity details of previous certified candidate pools and interview lists and consider other data to review, such as promotions and turnover.
The agency currently provides fourteen staff with 5% extra assignment pay for language skills:
- Five (5) staff for American Sign Language (ASL)
- Five (5) for Spanish language
- Two (2) for Cambodian language
- One (1) for Korean language
- One (1) for Tagalog/Bisayan languages
These languages represent the agency’s intent to maintain the gains made in bringing the formerly underserved Hispanic/Latinx and Asian populations to par with the general demographics of the state populations.
COVID-19 Impact | Agency Operations and Workforce
The need to respond to COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on services, and the way we do business.
Agency Staff Impact
- In March, 2020, all staff moved to work remotely, and DSB offices were shuttered.
- The transition to remote work was less frantic as other agencies expressed at the time, as a large percentage - almost 75% - of DSB staff already had a full array of mobile technologies due to the way we conducted work pre-COVID-19.
- Challenges with the work-from-home scenario over the long term were to accommodate the need for reasonable accommodation requests and to establish safe, ergonomic working zones for staff.
- The Administrative support and Fiscal staff had initial challenges in moving to remote work modes, but were able to develop paperless processes
- Flexibilities are in place to facilitate parents and staff with specialized needs
- The agency has drafted, revised and shared a 36 page safe-return-to-work plan with staff. The plan is not yet implemented to date (October 2020), and staff continue remote work practices.
- PPE has been secured and shipped to all DSB offices in anticipation of a return to office in the future.
Participant and Program Impacts
- Many direct participant services, while of higher quality when performed in-person, are able to be conducted remotely without an interruption of service continuity
- Assessment and Training services were impacted. Providing adaptive skills of blindness services is typically a high-touch field. Staff and participants initially struggled to maintain continuity of quality assessment and training services, and provided much creativity in pivoting from in-person to remote services, attaining many successes.
- Some services are not feasible to perform remotely, such as home management and orientation and mobility assessment and training
- The agency in September 2020 got permission to conduct outdoor orientation and mobility assessment and training services. This cane and travel training is an essential service that cannot be achieved safely through remote-access only.
- Staff have increased check-ins with participants, especially those who are more isolated.
- Staff reported having more time to provide counseling and services to participants as a result of time saved from not needing to travel to the participant’s community
- Referrals have slowed for the VR program, and almost stopped for the IL program.
- Since the IL program serves an older clientele and potentially more vulnerable population to COVID-19, it is unsurprising that individuals are cautious to engage in services, and referrals have slowed.
- While the typical summer youth programs were unable to be held in-person, many important programs and skill and personal development opportunities were missed by students this year. However, the Youth Services staff completely revamped how services were provided, and while aspects were lost, some were gained.
- Lost were:
- Hands-on work experience
- Independence in managing own work, paychecks and finances, shopping, meal preparation and chores
- Peer supports and lifelong connections
- Self-advocacy opportunities
- Gained were:
- Expansion of participation in programs, as remote services didn’t require travel or extended commitment of time
- Expansion of presenters from around the country and world, including Blind NASA engineers
- A new curriculum that can be implemented thorughout the school year without requiring travel or a wait until school holidays as in-person services do
- Lost were: