Traditionally, vocational rehabilitation (VR), including job development, focused almost exclusively on serving the client with disabilities. VR counselors would assess the individual’s needs, offer training, and help the person find a job.

Lately, however, there has a been greater focus on including the needs of the business community in the VR focus. In recent years, some states have recognized the value of seeing the employer as a customer, as much as the person with a disability. This is called the “dual-customer” approach.

“Really, this is about trying to identify all the needs that employers have, and being able to set up systems and services that respond to them,” says Neil McNeil, a program manager with the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston

McNeil notes that service providers who take a dual-customer approach understand the business community’s need for qualified employees. They view the employer as someone who needs to learn about individuals with disabilities, their accommodation requirements, and how to provide those accommodations. With this in mind, the employment professional can meet all those needs, thus helping both the job seeker and the business where they eventually work.

“In other words, with the dual-customer approach, the VR counselors are learning more knowledge and insight than ever before about the needs of businesses,” McNeil explains. “In the past, employment was changing so rapidly that vocational rehabilitation specialists kind of lost touch about what businesses were requiring about new employees.”

Vermont has been a leader in the dual-customer approach. “They publicize it and openly talk about it on their website,” McNeil notes. “They market it, and have created a whole system of business account managers to really meet the needs of businesses and companies and they’re trying hard to serve them.”

Understanding what kind of workers and skills businesses are looking for is part and parcel of being a successful VR counselor. DirectCourse, along with the ICI, creators of the College of Employment Services (CES) curriculum, addresses this topic in depth. CES courses like Business Perspectives are valuable tools for employment specialists to help match the job seekers they support with the right employers.