The Future of the DSP Workforce


The Future of the DSP Workforce: Higher Wages, Increased Training is Critical

When it comes to the direct support professional (DSP) workforce, the United States is at a critical juncture. Between the growing disability population and the aging baby boomers, the demand is growing – and will continue to grow to an all-time high – over the coming years. In fact, it’s estimated that nationally more than one million new direct support positions will need to filled by 2022.

This growing demand, combined with the fact that the direct support is a field plagued with high turnover and limited availability of training and education, and it’s all too clear – there needs to be an increased investment in this vital workforce. Strategies must be implemented to increase the capacity and quality of the DSP workforce.

The stability of this workforce has been a long-standing issue across disability service systems. In a recent joint statement issued by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) and the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP), it states that if a charge to address the workforce crisis is not acted upon, the entire disability service system is at risk of going back to days of institutionalization, segregation, and stigmatization, turning the clock back on decades of advocacy and disregarding the voice of people with developmental disabilities across the country.

This is a big deal, and something not to be overlooked any longer.

They discuss three main areas causing concern when it comes to building and stabilizing the workforce – low wages, limited training and credentialing, and ineffective supervision and organizational support.

Low wages is a no brainer. It makes complete sense – low wages equals high turnover. There is a significant discrepancy between the job responsibilities and skill expectations required of DSPs and their low wages. DSPs get easily burnt out with the highly emotional toll the job can take on them, and without the reward of higher compensation, it’s not surprising they may look elsewhere. AAIDD and NADSP stress that wages need to be increased in order to retain high quality staff.

The issues of limited training, credentialing opportunities, ineffective supervision and organizational support are things that can be easily addressed if community-based providers are made aware and take advantage of national training organizations like DirectCourse. DSPs need to receive high-quality training and opportunities for paid professional development on an ongoing basis, however no federal minimum training requirements currently exist.

While the use of established competencies to set workforce development and training standards is not widespread, it needs to become a necessity as the demand continues. Training through DirectCourse is built on the latest research and delivered online via a powerful learning management system, giving organizations the ability to easily access, customize, track and assess training across their staff. It’s more efficient, more cost-effective, and can be a solution to this major issue in the DSP workforce. Sounds like a win-win for everyone doesn’t it?

So, what does AAIDD and NADSP propose we do about these issues? They recommend a comprehensive approach to address the need to build capacity within the direct support workforce, which should include the following:

  • Allocate federal and state funding at levels sufficient to provide living wages and the benefits necessary to attract and retain qualified DSPs in home and community based services.
  • Provide credentialing opportunities, career pathways, and ongoing competency-based training and mentoring, embedded in public policy and sufficiently funded to create incentives for DSP participation.
  • Ensure frontline supervisors are adequately trained and support to effectively recruit, retain, and support DSPs.
  • Implement and evaluate the use of technologies as a universally-designed option for support while simultaneously providing relief to the increased demand for support and support workers.
  • Ensure DSPs have opportunities for needed training, mentoring, and professional development to effectively assist people with IDD to be fully included, valued, and participating members of their communities.

It’s pretty apparent – in order to accommodate the growing demand for the DSP workforce, these issues need to be addressed and acted upon immediately. The problems are clear and the solutions are unmistakable – isn’t it time to take action?

To read the full AAIDD and NADSP joint statement, click here. To learn more about how DirectCourse can provide your organization with the education and training your staff needs, visit

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