Tennessee apprenticeship helps create supported care for those with disabilities

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities often rely on direct support professionals (DSPs) to help them lead a more self-sufficient life. DSPs assist with everyday tasks and provide support, training and supervision, helping those with disabilities to be more engaged within their communities and realize their full potential.

About 4.5 million American workers comprise the direct care workforce, which includes caregivers, home health aides, job coaches, personal care aids and other roles. Unfortunately, as the demand for these professionals grow, the workforce has not kept pace.

To help ensure a robust pipeline of DSPs are available now — and in the future — the state of Tennessee, the QuILTSS Institute and UnitedHealthcare came together to create the Tennessee Direct Support Professional Apprenticeship. Working under the umbrella of Apprenticeship TN, powered by the Tennessee Workforce Development System, the program was created to help employers develop a skilled workforce.

“Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities need people with specialized skills who understand their needs and can help them achieve their goals. Direct support professionals are trusted and depended upon by the people they support, often becoming extensions of the families they serve,” said Tonya D. Copeland, vice president, Intellectual and Development Disability Services for UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Tennessee. “The apprenticeship helps ensure these needed services are available, and it brings a new group of professionals into the workforce and gives them immediate opportunities to advance in their field.”

The Tennessee Direct Support Professional Apprenticeship is registered with the U.S. Department of Labor. This affiliation ensures employees receive structured, supervised, on-the-job learning, as they gain new skills and earn nationally recognized job credentials.

Registered apprenticeships benefit both employers and participants, alike.

On average, employers realize a return on investment of $1.47 for every $1 invested in apprenticeships. Apprentices also have reduced turnover rates – 94% retain employment after completing the program. Apprenticeships also provide opportunities for growth with guaranteed wage increases as the employee progresses.

“Registered apprenticeships are an economic and workforce strategy. The Apprenticeship TN Office is committed to growing a highly trained and skilled workforce supporting our communities, employers and Tennesseans,” said Tyra Copas, Tennessee’s state apprenticeship director. “Apprenticeships have been a cornerstone of our workforce for centuries because they are effective at developing talent through established training programs consisting of on-the-job learning and education. The new Tennessee Direct Support Professional Apprenticeship offers access to resources and expertise, specially developed for the field, to build a pipeline of talent to support the growing need for services DSPs provide.”

To learn more about the Tennessee Direct Support Professional Apprenticeship, visit quiltss.org/apprentice/.

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