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TCEP - Tennessee Customized Employment Project:
Partnership and Collaborative Efforts


Project Overview

Grant number, name, and location: Tennessee Customized Employment Project, Knoxville TN, #E-9-4-1-0079

Grant recipient: Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee

Project lead: Workforce Connections of the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee (CAC) is the designated administrative entity for Local Workforce Investment Area 3, a single-county local workforce investment area in the state of Tennessee.

Subcontractors: University of Tennessee Center on Disability and Employment; TransCen, Inc.,; Disability Resource Center (DRC); East Tennessee Technology Access Center; Cerebral Palsy Center

Workforce Connections, a division of CAC, provided staff support to the local Workforce Investment Board and WIA staff of the Tennessee Career Center in Knoxville. Workforce Connections has led a comprehensive partnership to conduct strategic planning and implementation of activities to improve the career advancement of people with disabilities who are either unemployed or underemployed, through Customized Employment services in the One-Stop Career Center delivery system.

A critical feature of the grant was to address the statewide waiting list for integrated employment services. The project also aimed to reach individuals in secondary special education programs who needed post-school employment support and were likely to be added to the waitlist for such services, and individuals served in segregated settings who wanted integrated employment. At the beginning of the project (October 2001), there were over 2,300 people on the state waiting list for employment services.

Key Lessons

In addition to the partners named above, the project included the following significant collaborators: state and regional offices of Tennessee's Divisions of Rehabilitation Services, Mental Retardation Services, and Special Education; the Council on Developmental Disabilities; the Arc of Tennessee; and Knox County Schools. The partnership's two primary purposes were to:

The partners were an important element in the project's success. Collaborators had a wide array of responsibilities, including:


Business Partnerships

The project had strong relationships with local employers. A very active Business Advisory Council (BAC) was recognized as a Workforce Investment Board (WIB) subcommittee. The goals of the BAC were to:

The project accessed these employers for informational interviews, tours, and jobs for participants. The BAC was also very involved in Disability Mentoring Day, sharing success stories of hiring individuals with disabilities and other educational information to an audience of employers. Work with the BAC will continue beyond the life of the grant.

The project also had a service provider consortium working in conjunction with the BAC that had established by-laws, standing committees, and elected officers. The consortium functioned as the BAC's community provider "arm." It focused on educating employers, linking providers and employers, and raising standards for employment-focused service delivery for persons with disabilities (click here to see a brochure).

Through the consortium, service providers could access a range of training for staff on a regular basis. Training sessions focused on Customized Employment approaches and methodologies, building effective employer relationships, and other practices designed to improve the overall quality of services in the community. The consortium also promoted collaboration and cooperation among the provider groups (including the One-Stop Career Center), which resulted in increased staff knowledge and better customer access to community resources.

School Relationships

The partnership with the Knox County Schools proved very successful. Over the course of a year or so, the grant built a working relationship with this school system that developed into the Transition Project within the grant. This was an effort between the schools, the Division of Rehabilitation Services, the One-Stop/Workforce Connections, the Cerebral Palsy Center, and the University of Tennessee Center on Disability and Employment. The project's goal was to create a seamless transition for secondary students. Many students in Tennessee fall through the cracks or end up on long waitlists for services through the Division of Mental Retardation Services (DMRS) system.

The Transition Project was designed to access funds from multiple resources, including those noted as partners, to provide transition services to youth during and following their last year of school. The project developed protocols and budgets, and used Customized Employment strategies to move these students towards employment. Workforce Connections and the One-Stop worked in partnership with the Cerebral Palsy Center on a hybrid service delivery system to provide career planning, exploration, job development, and short- and long-term supports for identified youth. The potential existed to replicate this model in other areas of the state. Sustainability would entail finalizing enrollment into DMRS funding for the transitioning students and also submitting a grant proposal to the local United Way for additional funds. With the assignment of a DMRS case manager, students' services and funding would continue to be monitored.

Disability Partnerships

The partnership with the local Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) agency in Knoxville-Knox County grew over the years of the project. In an effort to sustain the grant's activity, staff were developing a Letter of Understanding (LOU) with the local DRS office to solidify the relationship between the One-Stop, a local CRP, and the DRS office.

Under the terms of the LOU, DRS would provide funding to the One-Stop to provide Customized Employment services (planning, exploration, and job development) to individuals with disabilities. The partnering CRP would then provide short- and long-term post-placement supports to the individual with funds from DRS and/or DMRS.

The finalization of the LOU with DRS was still in progress at the time of this report, as language and designation of funds per service needed to be acceptable to all involved. Once the LOU with DRS was complete, the One-Stop would enter into a LOU with the designated local CRP to partner on services provided. Since the template for the LOU had been finalized and approved by DRS, the project had started working with area CRPs to finalize agreements with them. They anticipated that they and the other hubs (or replication sites) might have multiple agreements with community providers. Each agreement would be customized in some aspects in accordance with that CRP's needs and capabilities.

Relationships with local CRPs created partnerships for service provision. Specifically, the One-Stop was able to work with the CRPs to obtain long-term supports for individuals in employment. Local partnerships also resulted in CRPs using the resources of the One-Stop Career Centers to assist in employment efforts for their job-seeking customers. These linkages meant that One-Stop staff gained increased familiarity with community resources for people with disabilities as well as increased opportunities to work with people with disabilities in ongoing service delivery at the One-Stop. During the development of a replication site in Columbia TN, local partnerships developed with that area's CRPs and offices of rehabilitation and mental retardation services.

The project developed relationships on a statewide level. Staff gave a group presentation on the grant to members of the statewide Workforce Development Board, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development staff, and local workforce area directors and staff from across the state. During the fall 2005 statewide WIB meeting, local workforce directors shared their plans for the upcoming year. Several directors mentioned Customized Employment efforts, indicating an interest to continue or expand this service within some One-Stops.

Many of the partnerships noted above were developed with the assistance of the project partners. TransCen and the University of Tennessee Center on Disability and Employment had extensive experience and standing in the disability community. They helped to forge working relationships between various entities and the Knoxville-Knox County CAC.

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