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Wisconsin’s WisCaregiver Connections: Revolutionizing Direct Care Worker Training and Job Matching

By Sarah Angell (she/her) | July 9, 2024

A year ago, Wisconsin launched the WisCaregiver Careers Certified Direct Care Professional (CDCP) program—a free, 30-hour training and certification program for direct care workers in home and community-based services (HCBS). The program builds on the enormous success of a similar training and job placement program for certified nursing assistants (CNAs) in Wisconsin.

Taking a “universal worker” approach, the CDCP program provides accessible, competency-based training for direct care workers, leading to a recognized credential that is portable across HCBS settings. Participants can also earn micro-credentials after completing training in a specific area of direct care, such as dementia care, and there are plans to bridge the CDCP to other certifications (such as CNA) as well.

A key feature of the program is WisCaregiver Connections, a new statewide matching service registry. All trained CDCPs will be enrolled in the registry, allowing them to create profiles and match directly with both agency employers and individual clients. Their training credentials will be automatically integrated into the platform for easy authentication.

PHI’s Research Associate, Sarah Angell, recently spoke with Kevin Coughlin, Policy Initiatives Advisor in the Division of Medicaid Services at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, about the CDCP program and WisCaregiver Connections in particular.

Sarah Angell: Give us a quick background—what led you to create the WisCaregiver CDCP program and WisCaregiver Connections?

Kevin Coughlin: The process started when we participated in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) 2021 Workforce Collaborative. And then we also did some work with PHI—we see you as the national experts in the direct care workforce. Out of that came several areas that we wanted to focus on. One was creating the CDCP certification, and then from there, we thought about how we could help fill all the job vacancies out there by creating a matching service registry.

We heard two things loud and clear in our listening sessions with direct care workers. One was, they weren’t being recognized, they weren’t being appreciated. They were called all kinds of different titles but didn’t really have that tie into what they felt was professional work. They helped us name “Certified Direct Care Professional”—they wanted to have that “professional” in the certification. And second, it was the need for a platform where they could connect. We thought about, how do these certified direct care professionals find employers? How do employers find the people coming out of this program?

SA: Can you tell us more about the needs you’re trying to meet?

KC: We have a lot of problems that we’re trying to solve. Number one, we had no consistent training. It was a little bit of the Wild West out there. There were some administrative code requirements that were pretty broad, that said a worker had to meet the needs of a participant. How do you evaluate that? It was all across the board. So that was one of the things that we really needed to do: set the bar and have some consistent training. Then we wanted to create that registry that people could use to get connected. It is very costly to recruit people. Even though providers did ads, no one was even applying, so we really had to find a way to generate interest and drive people to this platform.

SA: What advantages does the WisCaregiver Connections registry offer to workers in particular?

KC: Workers are able to choose the type of care setting they want to work in and where they want to work. I think the other thing that will be nice is that they’ll be recognized as certified professionals—because you have to be a CDCP to be listed on the platform. We’re also incentivizing employment, so they get a $250 sign-on bonus and a six-month $250 retention bonus. And we just rolled out a new referral program. If a CDCP refers a friend who then gets on the registry, they get another $250. There’s no limit, so if they get 10 friends, they get $2,500.

SA: That’s great. What about on the consumer side—what search features are available to individuals looking for CDCPs?

KC: People looking on the registry have to create an account on Handshake, and they have to be an employer, which could be an individual consumer or family member. Then they can turn on certain things that they want and say that they’re looking for a caregiver. It’s a little different than just having a listing of people that are registered. On the “find a job” part of the site, a family member can find out who’s looking for a job and who’s out there, and this is where they would connect to that individual. For example, on someone’s profile, you can verify that they are a CDCP and see where they got their certification. Eventually, if that worker attains micro-credentials, there will also be that information.

SA: What’s the impact you’ve seen so far?

KC: We have 7,796 students who have signed up, and over 3,000. 521 have completed all the modules, have taken the test, and are on the registry. Of those 521 on the registry, 380 are employed, and 132 have gotten their six-month retention bonus. We want 10,000 people to be on the registry by the time this project is over. On the other side of the registration, we have 1,051 employers who have signed up.

We have surveyed over 700 people that have completed the training and are either waiting for their test or have passed it. We’re trying to do continuous quality improvement. Things that we’re hearing from the students are super positive. Whether it’s somebody that’s been there for a long time or whether they’re brand new, they’re really being positive about the whole experience. We thought it would be a good program and we were hopeful, but we have been happy to start hearing from people that it’s been really impactful.

We are also doing a third-party evaluation of the program. They’re going to do a qualitative and quantitative review of our whole project and we’re hoping to have preliminary results later in the year. As we look at our biannual state budget, we can hopefully convince everybody to keep this going and have long-term sustainability.

Contributing Authors
Kevin Coughlin, Wisconsin Department of Health Services

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