Richmond Customized Employment Project:
Grant name, number, and location: Richmond Customized Employment Project, Richmond VA, #E-9-4-2-0095
Grant recipient: Training and Workforce Corporation (WIB and One-Stop Operator)
Project lead: Richmond Career Advancement Center (One-Stop)
Subcontractors: Virginia Commonwealth University (training and technical assistance), Richmond Area Public Schools, Virginia Business Leadership Network, Goodwill Industries, United Way (a facilitator of PATH planning and parental involvement), Division of Rehabilitative Services (jointly funded a navigator position and a youth transition project)
- Joint enrollment forms and procedures form the basis for a more unified, seamless One-Stop system.
- People with disabilities and other significant barriers often benefit more from properly organized and accommodated "generic" services than from wholly specialized services.
The Richmond Customized Employment project, in addition to its many innovations in implementation, was quite well placed to accomplish many key systemic goals. The project was based in the One-Stop and implemented by staff employed by and accountable to the One-Stop operator. Additionally, a variety of key partners had subcontracts, allowing them to hire staff dually accountable to both the grant and the system within which they worked and were supervised. While these staff had a "two masters" administrative and managerial burden, working through these issues drew each system closer together by forcing the systems themselves to participate actively in the grant. Grant funds allowed a safe and less costly way to explore partnerships, but funding staff through the other systems forced partners to take a hard look at their own policies and the degree to which they supported or undermined robust partnerships.
Customization of Standard Workforce Practices
As a part of systemic customization, the project created a process that allowed customers to access as many of the various service pools as possible within the Richmond Career Advancement Center and its immediate partners. This process began with a joint enrollment form (see referral guide and universal referral form) that acted as the basis of the necessary enrollment paperwork for every agency. Agencies requiring more than the basic information could attach it in a separate form rather than using an entirely different form or populating the interagency form with unnecessary information. In this way, the client's file was easily transferable and sharable between agencies, and the client had easier access to a variety of programmatic options.
From there, for customers with significant support needs who were assisted through person-centered planning techniques, the One-Stop first arranged a preparatory meeting between all the various partners to determine what partners would participate in each case and which would take the lead, based on the expressed needs and goals of the individual. This made person-centered planning meetings much more streamlined and efficient, and gave every participant a clear concept of their own role in the process. Of course, participants could change as the individual's employment process and relevant needs progressed.
The One-Stop was developing a system to allow considerable information-sharing between partners to ensure continued engagement from all parties. This had recently included the alteration of internal MIS and reporting systems to allow easier access by authorized outside partners without compromising the security of the system.
To ensure confidentiality, in addition to repeated verbal discussions, customers were asked to fill out a form detailing exactly which agencies would be allowed access to their information. This form was thereafter updated and signed off on with every new referral. Therefore, the ease of transferability did not compromise the system's security or confidentiality.
The grant's primary youth activities stemmed from the Youth Workforce Investment Network project (You WIN), a large-scale youth transition effort that included youth with and without disabilities. Much of the grant's efforts focused on customizing services as necessary for students with significant disabilities. You WIN was a multifaceted project that included mentoring, job shadowing, short-term internship and job placements, group training and activity projects, summer educational projects on citizenship and other "extracurricular" concerns, and in 2005, a citywide youth resource-mapping exercise where students canvassed the city, block by block, to document businesses, services, agencies, and other public resources. A large-scale public outreach campaign proceeded from this to support the students.
You WIN had a somewhat different service structure than standard adult services. Referrals were made by the school systems, and youth participated in large groups with the Richmond Career Advancement Center, Richmond Public Schools, the Virginia Business Leadership Network (which held responsibility for many of the mentor leads), and DRS staff. Generally, the project attempted at every point to create a truly transitional system, not one whose culmination was a handoff from the school system to either DRS or the workforce system.
The Richmond Customized Employment project first worked with the school system to fund a position to help the schools determine which of their students might have particular barriers and how those barriers might be overcome. The project also paid for an examination of the school's assessment lab, which resulted in the school spending over $50,000 to create an entirely new lab as well as an assistive technology lab. Richmond Public Schools staff were present at every planning meeting, both the grant-funded staff person and the school-side transition director. Thus they tried at every point to make their policies open and transparent to the other partners, and to play a genuinely constructive role formalizing a transition process between multiple partners. After time and trial, this resulted in a signed MOU between the various partners that met with everyone's satisfaction and would likely allow many of the core elements of the project to persist beyond the expiration of the grant. Furthermore, the Richmond Public Schools began to fund the staff position within the schools that had originally been funded through the grant.
The Richmond Customized Employment project staff person stationed in the One-Stop provided an array of intensive services to students, including hands-on assistance using the resource room and other core services, PATH planning (a form of person-centered planning that is particularly appropriate for youth as it focuses on long-term and futures planning around a variety of possible choices), customizing the job search, and help with mentor matching and job development. As above, the most meaningful innovation was likely the joint planning piece, whereby multiple agency staff were involved in the planning process for an individual to ensure that each customer gained access to the maximum variety of services possible (see more information on the Person Centered Interagency Collaborative Process). To save time, rather than try to have these meetings for every student the grant developed a process that mixed formal and informal assessments to determine who most needed the additional attention.
One issue that came up for the Richmond Career Advancement Center was a move towards relying on Work Keys as a standard assessment and reporting system. While many sites reported great success in using Work Keys, the Richmond Career Advancement Center as a whole was considering using the assessment score as a standard means of marketing its job seekers to employers. While this might be a successful measure for the majority of One-Stop customers, it clearly would put individuals for whom the test was inappropriate at a significant disadvantage. Discussions with One-Stop management continued on this issue. The local DRS office had also become aware of and involved in the discussion.
Outside of these specific youth services, service customization included training to each staff member on the basic principles of Customized Employment and its implementation in various One-Stop settings (resource room, orientations, workshops, etc.). Project staff worked closely with frontline staff and with various managers to ensure that these concepts were understood and implemented throughout the One-Stop. Online training developed by Virginia Commonwealth University remained available to staff after the project ended.