Metro North Regional Employment Board:
Grant number, name, and location: Metro North Regional Employment Board, Cambridge MA, #E-9-4-1-0078
Grant recipient: Metro North Regional Employment Board
Project lead: Metro North Regional Employment Board
Subcontractors and partners: Career Source One-Stop in Woburn, Career Place One-Stop in Cambridge, the Institute for Community Inclusion (training and technical assistance)
The Metro North Customized Employment project was based in two One-Stop Centers north of Boston. The Metro North Regional Employment Board (the Local Workforce Investment Board) was the grant recipient. Major partners included Vocational Rehabilitation, the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Mental Retardation, and the Institute for Community Inclusion.
- An overall sense of feeling welcome is largely contingent on the degree to which staff view serving people with disabilities as part of their, and the One-Stop's, role.
- Focus on designing services that are more effective for all customers rather than specialized services for individuals with disabilities.
- Individual funding accounts can be far more economical than is commonly believed.
- Employer outreach success depends on having something to offer to business, and seeing employers as equal partners.
Accessibility and Welcome
As a first step to ensuring strong service delivery in the One-Stop, the Customized Employment project subcontracted with the Institute for Community Inclusion to perform a physical and programmatic accessibility evaluation of its two primary One-Stop Career Center facilities. Once this was complete, recommendations were made and acted upon at multiple points.
Recommendations from the audit (for the Metro North One-Stop and Career Place website) addressed compliance issues and ensured that the physical space of the One-Stops was accessible. In addition, staff worked with the One-Stop on ways to design all the elements of its operation (e.g., registration, workshops, and case management services) so that these services were accessible to all customers. Rather than focusing only on the needs of individuals with disabilities, the recommendations considered the full range of needs of One-Stop customers. The One-Stop manager said that thinking universally about potential customers led to a whole new way of doing business.
Following the audit, two staff were hired (one per One-Stop) to act as direct case managers and employment specialists for customers with disabilities. These staff conducted a wide range of outreach activities to state agencies, including the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (VR), the Department of Mental Retardation, and the Department of Mental Health. This outreach proved effective not only in identifying individuals who could benefit from assistance with their job search but also in opening the door to a range of partnerships that had previously been tenuous or nonexistent.
As the grant progressed, project staff made a point of involving other WIA and partner staff in case management and job searches for their customers. They also acted as informal navigators in some cases, offering guidance and assistance to guide individuals through the system without taking formal "control" of their cases.
Significant training was offered to all One-Stop staff. The goal of these trainings was to provide all staff with a general knowledge of the skills required to work with people with significant barriers. It was also anticipated that staff would see the relevance of Customized Employment techniques for all customers with significant barriers, not only customers with disabilities.
When the project began, opinions gathered informally indicated that the One-Stop staff did not view it as their mission or responsibility to act as a service center for people with disabilities. They believed that outside partners such as VR would best serve this function. Towards the end of the grant, a staff survey showed that almost all staff viewed service to people with disabilities as being part of their duties, and that all staff felt they that they were adequately or highly comfortable serving this population (see outcome data).
Direct management of a number of cases became the primary function of the two project staff, especially after a navigator position was funded to split their time between the two One-Stops. As noted, this included outreach, service coordination, job search assistance, and the coordination of post-employment supports such as job coaching. This process eventually became a hybrid of the high-volume, hands-off case management style of the WIA and generic systems, and the time-intensive, integral nature of community rehabilitation providers.
Customers were presented with an array of options, including assistance as needed with the self-service elements of the One-Stop. In many cases staff also coordinated services and resources from other agencies, including an instance of resource acquisition in tandem with Vocational Rehabilitation. As the project progressed, efforts between the various agencies grew more fluid so that as grant resources dwindled, the connectivity between agencies remained a key feature of effective services for many customers.
Individually Directed Funding Accounts
One experimental feature of this grant's design was the allotment of a large pool of flexible funding to be used with few restrictions, largely at the customer's behest. With a minimal approval process and almost no red tape, funds could be approved and accessed quickly to meet demands as they arose.
Contrary to the commonsense expectation regarding these funds--that is, that they would be overused with little discretion--use of the funding was far lower than anticipated. In fact, the project was never able to expend all of the funding devoted to this purpose. A common concern with such funding was that its use would blossom out of control, and that it would be far more expensive than using more regulated funding. Instead, the most common use was for clothing, car fuel, and utility bills, all of which were small but highly important pieces in a person's job search. For example, had an individual been unable to drive to an interview or to the first week of employment at a job, they would have lost that job and cost the system a substantial sum by requiring it to restart the job search. And while other funding streams (VR, WIA Supportive Services) might potentially have been able to make a similar purchase on a customer's behalf, the speed with which the grant-funded transaction took place was unique. Less flexible and expedient methods can put job openings at risk, and demand much more staff time and effort. Given how expeditiously these methods spent the same money that would be spent in any event, it seemed clear that a small but flexible and responsive pot of funding could well be a cost-saver for a One-Stop.
Staff considered the loss of these funds for their customers a difficult but not insurmountable challenge. Having grown more familiar with the local systems and the resources available through them, staff had become better able to navigate those systems to access a wider range of resources for customers. Also, in at least one instance, the use of project funds set the stage for braided funding with VR: funds to acquire necessary business equipment for a customer developing self-employment.
The Customized Employment project took a comprehensive approach to employer outreach. Rather than following the "standard" model of outreach around a given customer, the project made a point of reaching out to the business community on the basis of what they could gain from the project. Throughout, the project hosted well-attended job fairs and coordinated trainings and technical assistance for employers seeking to hire or retain employees with disabilities. As such, staff positioned the One-Stop as a resource for the business community.