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Customized Employment Grant in Utica, NY:
Partnership and Collaborative Efforts


Project Overview

Grant number, name, and location: Customized Employment Grant, Utica, NY #E-9-4-3-0105

Grant recipient: Workforce Investment Board of Herkimer, Madison, and Oneida Counties

Project lead: Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID)—New York State Vocational Rehabilitation Agency

Partners: Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, BRIDGES—Madison County Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Herkimer Area Resource Center, ARISE Child and Family Services, Mohawk Valley Community College, Mohawk Valley Council on Alcoholism and Additions, Peacemaker Program, Mid-York Child Care Coordinating Council, ARC of Oneida-Lewis County, Resource Center for Independent Living (RCIL), Family Services of Mohawk Valley, Working Solutions One-Stop Career Centers (Herkimer County, Madison County, Utica, Rome)

Key Lessons/Accomplishments

The Customized Employment Grant in Utica, NY, has developed partnerships with community rehabilitation providers, legal services, arbitration and negotiation training centers, and substance abuse and Employee Assistance Program (EAP)services as well as with state partners, including VESID (Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities), the Department of Social Services, and the Department of Mental Health. During a strategic planning process at the beginning of the grant, the goal for the employment system was to be characterized by:

  1. Knowledgeable staff and partners
  2. Accessibility and Consumer Focus
  3. Integration and Connection
  4. Coordination
  5. Effectiveness and Efficiency

Short- and long-term goals were identified in each of these areas, and participants committed to steps that either their agencies or they as individuals would complete in order to advance these goals.

A strength of the Utica Customized Employment Grant was the range of partners that were included. The involvement of legal services was considered a significant contribution. Many individuals who were looking for employment services under the grant had minor legal issues that created barriers for them. Through the involvement of legal services, individuals with outstanding student loan payments or liens on paychecks could receive support and resolve issues that had been impeding their employment efforts.

To effectively use the resources of the partners within the CEG as well as the entire workforce system, the four One-Stop Career Centers (One Stop) implemented a checklist on which individuals could self-identify needs (click here for more information about the checklist). All new customers are asked to complete the checklist and are then directed to services based on their answers. Staffs at the One-Stops have resource information that matches up with the needs areas covered by the checklist.

Grant partners came across obstacles in the first two years as they worked through individual service delivery as well as administrative issues, but as these were resolved, there was an increase in collective morale and a belief in the possibility of real systems change. One partner called the previous system a Band-Aid, adding that now there were comprehensive plans that kept staff from falling back into old patterns. Customers who were interviewed as part of the grant evaluation reported a seamless experience between One-Stop, VESID, and CEG staff. Partners who moved on-site as part of the project felt that their physical presence at the One-Stop was critical to "strengthening and institutionalizing" relationships.

To ensure that all staffs had access to information on the partners within the workforce system, a web-based service directory was created and hosted by the WIB. In addition to providing basic information about a partner agency's resources and services, the site can be easily updated by partners to inform others of special projects or initiatives in which they are involved. The dynamic nature of this site has been an effective communication tool for the workforce system and demonstrates the WIB's commitment to supporting and maintaining partnerships.

New Collaboration and Opportunities

Partnerships under the CEG have expanded beyond the original scope of the grant to other populations who could benefit from customized employment. A team that included the service navigator for the program, a representative from the Council on Alcohol and Addiction, and a case manager began to work together in conjunction with a jail-diversion program. As a part of this "treatment court," individuals had to make a commitment to getting a job. The goal of this effort was to avoid inappropriate incarceration when mental health or additional issues could be better addressed through treatment.

Project staff did outreach to a number of local agencies on how the WIB and the Working Solutions system could help increase the number of ex-offenders who successfully found and retained employment. The "Second Chance" project is designed to work with agencies already providing services to ex-offenders, to determine the best role for the WIB and the Working Solutions system to play, and to develop programs that can be implemented both as small pilot efforts within the scope of the Customized Employment Grant and as potential major projects that would be supported by possible future grant funding.

Partners involved with the CEG felt they had a better understanding of how to work with ex-offenders as a result of the efforts of the grant. All partners became more familiar with how to handle disclosure issues.

Sustaining Efforts of CEG

The monthly meeting of the partners was viewed by many as a valuable networking opportunity, and there was considerable interest in sustaining the activity beyond the life of the grant. The creation of the Job Resource Network was a forum to sustain the relationships created under the grant. In addition, invitations were extended to other state agencies and private providers interested in employment. To integrate the lessons of the grant into the overall operation of the workforce system, the decision was made to have the WIB convene the Network and to broaden the focus beyond individuals with disabilities.

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