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Alaska Customized Employment Project:
Partnership and Collaborative Efforts


Project Overview

Grant number, name, and location: Alaska Customized Employment Project, Juneau, AK, E-9-4-2-0090

Grant Recipient: Alaska Workforce Investment Board

Project Lead: Alaska Vocational Rehabilitation

Subcontractors: The University of Alaska (Evaluator), Employment for All, and Marc Gold and Associates (Training and Technical Assistance)

Key Lessons/Accomplishments

Partner-based work groups can be highly effective, particularly if they:

Partnerships on both a systemic and a practical level are the key strength of the Alaska Customized Employment Grant. From the start, this grant has worked through a number of local and statewide advisory and management boards. While many grants employ such groups as aspects of management and oversight, this grant partnered with them deftly as agents of systemic collaboration and leadership.

Local and State Working Groups

At each of the five local sites, One-Stop, partner, and grant staff initially convened for two separate meetings. The first meeting focused on One-Stop Career Center redesign, which entailed an examination of the physical layout and programmatic structure of the services offered in each center. Subsequent meetings focused on issues of sustaining the achievement of the grant.

On the state level, the grant initially designated an advisory board comprising system leaders and decision makers. Much of the effort of this group also focused on sustainability.

What made the Alaska working groups so effective?

Active Partners

While participants of the working groups varied by region, certain organizations were consistent across all groups. As the grant recipient and a strong partner in the One-Stop system, Vocational Rehabilitation was an active partner in every group, as was the Department of Public Assistance. Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Adult and Employment Services staff also was typically represented at every level. Community Rehabilitation Providers were often at the table and played a vital role in service delivery in many areas. Native and faith-based community organizations were represented at the state level, though the Native Vocational Rehabilitation agency did not typically collaborate with this grant. Other partners across the state included Independent Living Centers, Transition from School to Work projects, and mental health service organizations.

One-Stop Redesign Teams

In each project area, redesign teams were established to assess the architecture of the One-Stop Career Center services. Activities related to these groups have varied by site. At some centers, major physical alterations to the facilities themselves were contemplated and, in some cases, implemented (click here for examples of these alterations). At other centers, the methods and chronology of service were analyzed and then optimized to best meet the needs of each partner and its customers.

In Anchorage, the redesign team oversaw the expansion of the center into additional space within the same facility, including the relocation of various customer service staff and a redesign of the layout for customer intake. The team repositioned staff, facilities, and resources to suit customers' patterns of movement and usage rather than simply assigning the new space to a single group or going with the easiest staff re-arrangement.

In addition, following an examination of customer service in Wasilla, the team reassigned some greeting and frontline staff to better identify customers' needs early on in the One-Stop process. This initial assessment of needs, known as a triage, is of great value in routing customers to the appropriate services and ensuring that individuals in need of extra assistance do not "slip through the cracks" of self-directed and Core services.

Sustainability Teams

These teams, which handle staff training, partnership, service funding, and capacity development, were charged with sustaining the practices of customized employment, primarily Discovery, within the community workforce development system of a given area.

In Juneau, the work of sustainability teams focused largely on the One-Stop relationship to small to mid-size community providers. By training and coordinating with the efforts of these providers, the Juneau One-Stop, in collaboration with Vocational Rehabilitation, will continue to offer Customized Employment practices through its overall network of resources. Leads and relationships with employers are also shared (in Juneau and in Anchorage under a similar arrangement), and plans are in place to further formalize the business outreach teams to allow employers a single point of contact with the system.

The Juneau model represents an important finding for One-Stops nationwide who struggle to incorporate the work of community groups into their efforts. The Community Service Providers in Juneau contributed the following to the overall system:

The success of the model seems to depend on a handful of features that, while not unique, are also not universally present in other systems. For this model to be replicable, the following foundational aspects, or their equivalents, need to be in place:

It is worth noting again that none of the grant's accomplishments would have been possible without the Center Redesign and Sustainability working groups meeting regularly. It was at these regular meetings, more than anywhere else, that knowledge gained through direct experience in the field was effectively integrated with local and state policy concerns, bridging the gap that often exists between the two.

The Statewide Advisory Board

To supplement the work occurring at the local level, state leaders of various Workforce-related systems, including the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Division of Employment Security, Department of Education & Early Development, Special Education Department of Health and Social Services; Public Assistance & Behavioral Health, Department of Labor and Workforce Development Business Partnership Division, and the Statewide Alaska Workforce Investment Board (AWIB), gathered on a quarterly basis to discuss issues brought to the fore by the implementation of the Alaska Customized Employment Project. Over the last two to three years, the work of the advisory board has been augmented by a subcommittee that meets monthly, via phone, to discuss sustainability issues and report back to the larger group on their findings. Innovations resulting from this collaboration have included:

"Behind the Scenes" Negotiation and Leadership

In addition to the formal meetings and participatory events already referenced, the Alaska Customized Employment Project benefited from the strong leadership of its grant management and consultants behind the scenes. When necessary, some negotiations occurred away from the more public meetings. Often, partners have concerns they are not comfortable bringing up in a large group and which need to be addressed privately. As such, meeting with these stakeholders individually is sometimes a key requirement to the ongoing success and growth of the grant. This grant's leadership proved itself dynamic in both large- and small-group negotiations.

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