Maryland Customized Employment Project:
Grant number, name, and location: Maryland Customized Employment Project, 101 Monroe Street Suite 1500, Rockville, MD 20850, #E-9-4-3-0106
Grant recipient: Montgomery County Workforce Investment Board
Project lead: TransCen, Inc.
Subcontractors: MontgomeryWorks One-Stop, Independence Now (ILC and BPAO), WayStation
- Effective services to people with significant disabilities required coordinating support services relevant to housing, medical, needs and transportation, as well as supports directly relevant to employment.
- A consistent source of training was essential to perpetuate the efforts of Customized Employment.
- State-level partnerships are necessary, but not entirely sufficient for effective particle collaboration.
The Maryland Customized Employment Project (MCEP) placed a project manger and three direct service staff in the One-Stop. The direct service staff worked with a mix of customers referred through both the standard One-Stop and the state Vocational Rehabilitation systems. Many customers served through the grant required an intensive level of service coordination and customization to achieve successful employment outcomes. That this intensity of service was accomplished within the One-Stop system was clearly one of this project's most important achievements.
Customized Service Provision
The MCEP provided high-quality customized services to its customers. Customers who approached this project had typically been out of work for some time, or never worked at all. All faced very significant barriers to employment. Typically, the individuals served by this project would be entirely precluded from standard One-Stop services, given the One-Stop's intensely self-directed nature. (MontgomeryWorks, as a high-volume system, was known to be particularly reliant on self-direction for the majority of its customers.) Still, in this setting, MCEP acted as the intensive counterpoint to other services.
Services included discovery, various types of assessment, service coordination (including case-management-level coordination of housing and transportation concerns), job search, and negotiation (click here for more information). The project also facilitated the provision of other services they could not provide directly, such as job coaching and follow-along.
MCEP used a variety of outreach methods, including word-of-mouth via various agencies and providers, many of whom were partners in the grant process. They also produced a monthly newsletter that was distributed to more than 250 stakeholders in the state and the region. This newsletter gave partners and potential referral sources a detailed account of the project's accomplishments. The newsletter was organized primarily around participants' stories, and was thus a very effective dissemination tool.
Referrals for the project came from a variety of sources, including Vocational Rehabilitation and the One-Stop's Intensive Services unit. The steady increase in referrals from the One-Stop was a positive sign for the project, signifying both that customers were approaching the One-Stop and that One-Stop staff were becoming more adept at accurately guiding individuals through the system rather than referring them directly to Vocational Rehabilitation.
In addition to the newsletters detailed above, the project founded a series of training courses at the local community college to instruct professionals on the use of Customized Employment practices for their customers. The classes ran the gamut of major practices and were held in the evening to accommodate professional working schedules.
Staff also presented at the Maryland State Transition and the state Association of NonPublic Special Education Facilities conferences on the topic of transition. These presentations served both as training and outreach tools, and were meant to emphasize and support the increasing effort of the project in serving transitional youth.
MCEP played a role in developing the content for the state Workforce Action Grant's online training courses. Offerings included:
- Customized Employment
- Social Security Work Incentives
- Interviewing and Hiring People with Disabilities
- Motivational Interviewing
- SSI Calculation Worksheet
- SSDI Calculation Worksheet
Offerings were open to the public and widely distributed throughout Maryland. Only the calculation worksheets are specific to the state, given the unique state-level figures; everything else is usable nationwide.
Service Coordination with Other Agencies and Organizations
In many cases, individuals served through MCEP had multiple agencies to meet their various needs. For example, an individual entering the project might receive housing, transportation, and personal care supports, all of which would need to be included in their overall plan for employment. As many of the individuals served had little or no employment experience, the other agencies providing these supports often had to be convinced of the importance of an employment goal. This inexperience led to an entrenchment on the part of many providers, and an unwillingness to provide the flexibility of scheduling required to accommodate an employment goal. For this reason, project staff had to build a foundation of support and create relationships on the most basic levels before beginning any negotiations with employers.
The project faced further challenges to coordinate follow-up job coaching through provider agencies using either grant, Vocational Rehabilitation, or Developmental Disabilities funds. Again, staff faced a key challenge in securing the buy-in and cooperation of these organizations.
Coordination with Mental Health Providers
Through the efforts of the grant, St. Luke's House, a provider of services to individuals with mental health barriers, began to collaborate with the Intensive Services unit in the One-Stop to work through customers' needs on a case-by-case basis. As customers of the One-Stop also frequently have undiagnosed mental health disorders, St. Luke's proved to be a very meaningful addition to the service coordination piece of One-Stop core services.
Using Practice to Create Systems Change
The other ODEP-funded grantee in Maryland, the WorkFORCE Promise project, regularly engaged in state-level systems change activities. This grant took a different but complementary approach, focusing on using demonstrated best practices as a way to create ground-up change. In addition to working with a broad array of partners and disseminating methods through a variety of means, this project also produced and disseminated a newsletter telling the best stories from their efforts.
Example of Customized Service Provision
The following example illustrates the job negotiation and discovery services provided by grant staff.
A 21-year-old woman began to work with Maryland Customized Employment Project. A recent graduate of the Montgomery County Public Schools, she expressed the desire to work in a position where she would interact with a variety of people, have independent responsibility, and perhaps handle stacking and receiving products.
Grant staff met with a variety of businesses to evaluate their needs. Through these conversations, they discovered that the manager of a retail clothing store had a human resource need that the job seeker might be able to meet. Store management were very impressed by the potential of Customized Employment as a tool for the business and saw the value of a created position for their store. They offered the job seeker a position as a mark-down scanner, marking stock throughout the day to see what items should be marked down or adjusted. This task had previously been a floating duty of other store staff and had distracted them from their essential customer service functions. With the creation of a new position, the store operated at a greater level of overall efficiency.