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Advancing Customized Employment: Building Careers for People with Disabilities via One-Stop Centers:
Service Integration


Project Overview

Grant number, name, and location: Advancing Customized Employment: Building Careers for People with Disabilities via One-Stop Centers, Chicago IL, #E-9-4-3-0104

Grant recipient: Chicago Workforce Board

Subcontractors: Thresholds, Inc.; University of Illinois at Chicago National Research and Training Center

The key focus of Advancing Customized Employment (ACE) was to enhance the capacity of local One-Stop Career Centers to provide Customized Employment services to individuals with psychiatric disabilities. The project entailed collaboration between the Chicago Workforce Board and two partners. The first was the University of Illinois at Chicago: National Research and Training Center on Psychiatric Disability (NRTC). Among other activities, NRTC tracked all data on participants, facilitated focus groups, and provided training to project and One-Stop staff. The second partner was the largest psychiatric rehabilitation agency in Illinois, Thresholds, Inc., which has operated for over 40 years. They were responsible for the Customized Employment service delivery and provided the direct service staff for the project.

Key Lessons

In 2002, the Illinois Workforce Investment Board (the state workforce board) created World Class One-Stop Delivery System, a strategic plan to improve the overall performance of the One-Stops. In addition, in 2001 the Chicago Workforce Board (CWB) undertook a comprehensive examination of its One-Stop Career Centers' abilities to reduce service duplication, enhance service integration, and present a unified marketing and business image to the community. CWB Final Report 2001 described the needed improvements and a strategic plan for carrying out those enhancements. The plan identified the need to:

The ACE project was designed as a mechanism to assist the Chicago One-Stops to reach some of these goals.


Customization of Standard Workforce System

The project worked with the disability program navigators in each center to obtain referrals and resources. The navigators were funded through a grant with the Social Security Administration and the Employment and Training Administration. ACE staff and project manager attended "Disability Concerns" forums, which the disability program navigators hosted to provide technical assistance on access to One-Stop services.

As a result of the project's involvement with the Mid-South One-Stop Career Center, a new policy was put into place that set up a formal referral system between the One-Stop Career Center staff and ACE staff. ACE staff and One-Stop staff met to discuss new and previous referrals weekly. This group included the disability program navigator, the Veteran's representative, staff from the state Unemployment Insurance department, and the WIA adult and youth representatives.

Project staff worked with the One-Stop business services team to develop employer fact sheets to provide information regarding disability issues. ACE staff regularly attended the business services team meetings to learn about upcoming employer events. They also provided technical assistance to members regarding access to job fairs and other employer events for customers. At the time of this writing, ACE staff continued to provide information about employment and individuals with mental illness to this group.

To better integrate employer outreach efforts, project staff facilitated a relationship between Partners for Inclusive Employment, a group that hosted employment fairs for people with disabilities, and the Pilsen One-Stop Career Center's business services team, whose members organized employment fairs in the Chicago workforce development system. A result of this relationship was a job fair co-hosted by both groups in April, 2006. This was the first time these two groups had worked collaboratively to host a job fair in Chicago. The collaboration included resource sharing, employer sharing, and joint activities such as an employer breakfast.

As a result of project efforts, resources within the One-Stop Career Centers changed. The City of Chicago's Benefits Planning Assistance and Outreach (BPAO) project staff started offering office hours at the One-Stop Career Centers. This assisted not only the project's customers but also other customers of the One-Stops. ACE developed a resource and referral book on mental illness for use by One-Stop staff. The book contained current, easy-to-read information and contacts for a variety of free or low-cost services available in the community, including food, clothing, shelter, mental health/emotional support, housing, utility assistance, medical and dental care, mental health services, and housing.

In addition to the above, ACE worked with the LWIB to fund a mystery shopper project to assess service quality within the One-Stop Career Centers for individuals, including those with disabilities. The information gathered in this project was intended to determine whether One-Stop staff needed further training. The ACE project manager facilitated a citywide implementation team that created an access plan for each One-Stop Career Center addressing accessibility for individuals with disabilities, particularly programmatic barriers. The plans outlined the procedures and policies that all the Chicago One-Stop Career Centers had to have in place, and included accommodations request forms. The working group consisted of the One-Stop Career Center's mandated partners.

Staff Training

The training needs of staff were identified through informal surveys with management staff and focus groups with One-Stop staff. In addition, NRTC created an online survey tool to continue assessing One-Stop staff members' training needs. Project management acknowledged the need for ongoing training due to staff turnover and the need to periodically reinforce skills that staff did not use all the time.

One-Stop Career Center staff received numerous trainings through the project, based on their stated needs. Among them were:

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