Integrating Effective Service-Delivery Strategies in the Workforce Development System
Service integration is the process of instilling best practices into the structure of an overall service system through collaboration. Using the resources of multiple partners, Customized Employment and Workforce Action grantees established new services within One-Stops, including but not limited to Customized Support Teams, discovery, and individualized, community-based job searches. To promote seamlessness among partner systems, grantees focused on creating shared intake forms, information-management systems, and case-management protocols. Grantees also used the One-Stops as the staging ground for capacity-building efforts with and on behalf of community providers.
As successful service-delivery strategies were developed, grantee staff worked to integrate those strategies into overall One-Stop operations and promote their universal application to a range of customers. This was achieved both by expanding existing practices, services, and policies to the widest possible customer base (customizing generic services) and by adding new services designed to meet the needs of individuals with the most complex employment barriers (i.e., institutionalizing Customized Employment services). Success was most apparent when One-Stop staff were oriented to serving and including the entire community. Good Customized Employment practices relied on broad participation by numerous partner entities.
Customizing Practices within Core Services
Workforce Investment Act (WIA) core services are designed as high-volume, primarily self-directed resources for job seekers. While these services can assist a wide range of job seekers, they often present a challenge for those with complex barriers to employment. Grantees identified many different and successful strategies to assist all job seekers to better access WIA services. Many grantees trained staff and partners to assist customers with disabilities through fostering independence, self-directedness, and self-determination, while others funded navigator-style positions that opened the door to specialized services and allowed broader access to generic resources. One project modified case-management-reporting software so that it would capture information on disability. This helped them to better craft services and understand their customers' needs. Another site established consistent staffing for greeter and resource positions, through which all staff were expected to rotate. This collaborative approach to staffing increased One-Stop Center cohesion and paved the way for a deeper sense of value and accountability being associated with these positions. Other partnerships found that modifying and standardizing the intake forms to be used by all their Workforce partners decreased an administrative burden, increased the sharing of resources and case management, and lessened the likelihood that an individual would be referred out of a system.
Customizing Intensive Services
Like core services, WIA intensive services are often designed for high-volume environments, which can make them difficult for some customers to access appropriately. Grantees worked to expand the nature and effectiveness of these services. In one partnership with a high-volume youth project, youth customers were encouraged to take advantage of customized practices such as mentoring, job shadowing, and internships. These efforts led to so many successes that, eventually, ongoing funding from the public Vocational Rehabilitation system was put in place to continue the efforts. Another site established an "Intensive Service Unit Team", who provided both service and policy guidance to the One-Stop and collaborated with grant project staff to coordinate services for individuals with significant disabilities. A need for intensive case management was observed by many sites, which in turn focused their efforts on building strong partnerships to increase both funding and staffing. One site successfully employed a business-service representative who worked with companies and assisted other unit representatives, focusing primarily on disability issues and opportunities for customizing jobs for a successful employment fit.
One-Stop Administration and Quality Assurance
Partners worked in conjunction with One-Stop leadership to make guiding policies and practices generally more welcoming to a broad range of job seekers. A variety of methods, both qualitative and quantitative, were used to ensure that meaningful and effective services were provided through the systems. Many sites measured how welcoming customers felt their services were through several surveys they conducted during the grant. Staff and customer responses showed that "welcomeness" of services was related to the extent to which One-Stop staff and management believed that serving people with disabilities was a critical element of the site's mission. Another approach involved the development and use of "Mystery Shopper" programs, which helped ensure that services were addressing the needs of customers with disabilities. Audits were conducted through one project, assessing timeliness of service, access to the full range of Customized Employment services, and customer satisfaction. Still other sites focused on strictly maintaining the standards determined by the grant in the process of contracting with operators. Continuation of their contracts was contingent on meeting these established standards.
Workforce Investment Board Involvement
As the local leadership bodies of the Workforce Investment System, Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) can be a powerful force for change. In many instances, WIBs became proactively involved in supporting grantee initiatives and goals. At some sites, the Local WIB (LWIB) administrative bodies and members themselves became keenly aware of and interested in the success of the Customized Employment grants. Their involvement included a strong sense that they would "champion" the efforts of the grant, and was backed up with formal policy changes and revised performance guidelines that provided incentives to serve people with disabilities. One particular state WIB created a strategic plan that led the way towards greater systemic integration and better service. Its plan addressed a number of needs, including seamless service delivery, improvement of staff knowledge and skills, awareness of the needs of the disability community, collaboration with non-partner disability agencies, accessible support services, baseline standards, a culturally appropriate marketing plan for people with disabilities, and establishment of employer-to-employer outreach. Finally, one LWIB used another strategy to guarantee that the assessment process truly captured the preferences, skills, and abilities of its customers with disabilities: A work group made up of WIB leaders modified One-Stop operator policies to include a range of assessment options - from standardized to more person-centered - that could then be used selectively, based on their effectiveness for individual job seekers.
Institutionalizing Practices through Customized Support Teams
Customized Support Teams, comprising multiple partners, convened to jointly plan with and support individual job seekers. While this practice required a greater staffing investment, it typically resulted in success for individuals for whom the system was otherwise not effective. This practice capitalized on the resources of multiple partners, as customers with significant barriers often needed more supports than a single organization could provide. An individualized career-planning process, where partners met to coordinate needed services, was found to be an invaluable tool. Through this flexible process, each partner had a clear concept of its individual role/responsibilities, and One-Stops were able to develop a system that allowed considerable information-sharing, ensuring continued engagement from all parties. Partnerships truly institutionalized the use of such teams to meet the needs of job seekers with barriers to employment.
Coordinating with Community Service Providers
As the One-Stop system is designed to be high-volume and to engage a wide range of partners, many grantees worked closely with community providers to establish new partnerships. In these arrangements, One-Stops ensured access to their workshops, job leads, and an array of partner funding, as appropriate, while the community providers conducted the intensive services that are often not viable for One-Stops to offer with their limited resources. Many sites focused on building capacity within community providers through training and mentoring, to help ensure the long-term availability of Customized Employment practices after grant funding ended. Other sites were able to form a significant partnership among Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), the One-Stop, and community service providers, in which the One-Stop acted as the gateway. VR provided some case management and funded the efforts of the community providers, who in turn provided intensive Customized Employment services that neither the One-Stop nor VR staff could provide.
Some sites identified self-employment as an important strategy for customers with significant complexities as well as those seeking self-sufficiency in struggling economies. These sites worked to provide intensive assistance in small-business development for some individuals. In addition to proving an important strategy for individuals with multiple and significant barriers, self-employment ventures created some of the most compelling partnerships and instances of creative funding and resource ownership experienced by the grantees. In one case, VR, the Customized Employment grantee, the Social Security Administration, and the Department of Agriculture each contributed funding to support a small truck-hauling business, resulting in a variety of partners nearly unprecedented in standard employment ventures.
Integrating Effective Service-Delivery Practices: Challenges and Strategies
In the quest to integrate effective practices on behalf of individuals with disabilities into the service-delivery system, sites faced a range of challenges that required innovation to overcome.
Need for Quality Assurance
Staff training on Customized Employment is critical to quality service provision. However, training alone often has a time-limited effect, especially in light of high turnover and the tendency to revert to "standard operating procedure" in the absence of a special grant or project. Although many partnerships focused on training as a major piece of systems change throughout their projects, they realized that long-term changes had not taken place, or that their effectiveness was limited at best.
Some sites responded to this challenge by making training available online, while others worked extensively with a variety of marketing pieces, such as videotaped instructional case studies that explicated the goals and standards of advanced customized practices. One LWIB went a step beyond this and was able to truly institutionalize advanced practices among a wide range of staff - to the extent that new staff were acculturated into these practices. The strong support from leadership and the spectrum of staff who focused on maintaining the grant's standards created a culture of higher expectations.
Multiple Intake Processes
Resource sharing and collaboration within the One-Stop has repeatedly been shown to be an essential, yet challenging piece of successful customized practices. This challenge was addressed with the development of a shared enrollment form. First, representatives from each partner program identified the customer data elements that were necessary for enrollment in its particular program. Then, only those data elements that were common to all partner programs were collected to create the shared enrollment form. Any supplemental information required by an individual program would be gathered in the event that a customer sought out its particular services. The shared enrollment form could be utilized across programs at the customer's behest, and it greatly reduced the administrative burden on both case managers and customers.
Business Service Units: Missed Opportunities
Business Service Units were inherently driven by the needs of employers and, as a result, could be perceived as showing a preference for job seekers who presented minimal barriers to employment. Consequently, systems were challenged with meeting the needs of long-term and repeat customers for whom successful job placements were not materializing. To address this issue, partnerships placed business-outreach specialists in teams to model customized business outreach and marketing to other unit representatives. Through this approach, practices that may have been viewed as focusing on the needs of the job seeker, such as carving and negotiating jobs with employers, were found to be very responsive to the demand-side needs of businesses. In a business-service-unit context, where representatives often have very close and trusting relationships with community employers, these strategies proved particularly effective, allowing unit representatives to expand services to include something akin to human resource consulting to small businesses.
Managing Collaboration with Community Service Providers
In implementing a Workforce Action project, one site turned to the existing partnership between a service provider with a focus on mental health issues and the local One-Stop. Challenges ranged from technological (allowing an outside organization to access the One-Stop MIS system) to administrative (creating ways of sharing cases and resources). Two key factors played a role in the success of the project. First, both sides maintained an ongoing commitment to work through the challenges they encountered. Barriers to collaboration were too significant to predict at the inception of a project but were continually addressed throughout. Second, the LWIB took a strong hand in this partnership, acting as a mediator when discussion alone could not resolve conflicts and ensuring that the participants could not simply step out of the effort.
As a result of the collaboration, the One-Stop instituted many innovative customized practices, and the project developed a clear method for providing intensive services, as needed, through the mental health organization. The project was successful enough to compel the WIB to continue the collaboration with WIA Dislocated Worker funding. Funds were therefore allocated toward this community partner's efforts to work with dislocated and discouraged workers with disabilities.
Institutionalizing Customized Employment in the Generic System
Infusing a time-intensive process such as Customized Employment into a high-volume "generic" system required significant time for relationship building, training provider staff, and addressing WIB/One-Stop policies. Some sites created a partnership involving the One-Stop, VR, and various community service providers. The One-Stop remained the hub of operations, where customers were encouraged to come for services. Staff were also trained to recognize when an individual could benefit from the services of VR and various other community agencies in addition to One-Stop services. Successful projects examined each element of One-Stop service, determined the most natural fit for each step in the Customized Employment process, and modified job functions accordingly. As a result, WIA case managers were conducting more intense exploration services, while business service representatives were negotiating employment positions for specific job seekers based on their skills and strengths. And, with this individualized service, job seekers with significant disabilities were attaining successful employment outcomes. This level of collaboration was part of a grant-long process of systemic reorganization that resulted in real change in service delivery, change that has been sustained beyond the grant funding period.
Systemic Barriers to Self-Employment
As challenging as it was to build Customized Employment into the One-Stop setting, it was even more difficult to institutionalize self-employment. One-Stop staff often discouraged this path, even for individuals who did not require a customized solution. This was due in part to the fact that performance measures often did not account for success in self-employment and in part to One-Stop staff being unfamiliar with this issue.
Multiple projects found success by reaching out to a wide variety of community, state, and federal resources. Collaborations were realized with the Small Business Administration, VR, faith-based organizations, MicroEnterprise centers, Community Rehabilitation Providers, and school systems, to name a few. One-Stops were partners in this effort, in some cases providing the skills training needed for entrepreneurial pursuits. In most cases, One Stops did not, however, take a lead role. It remained clear that, given the level of coordination and time required, most Labor Exchange staff (typically state-funded) would not be able to take the lead role in customized business development for individuals with significant barriers to work. Partners such as VR, community providers, or MicroEnterprise centers were able to facilitate this process.
Recommendations for Enhancing Service-Delivery Strategies
Seek to establish collaborative functions and services.
Examining system processes for redundancies, inefficiencies, and fragmentation - through process mapping or some other mechanism - can assist with enhancing shared aspects of service delivery, administration, and management. Examples of these include:
- Intake processes
- Data collection and management
- Case management
- Performance measurement
By establishing multi-partner work groups, these functions can be integrated across entities, creating a far more seamless system for partners and customers alike. Additionally, when system processes are fully understood by all partners, more complex sharing, such as that involved in Customized Support Teams and shared funding, can be realized.
Policy change through WIB leadership.
Maintaining WIB staff involvement throughout project implementation provides an opportunity for a unique perspective and often for a greater depth of understanding regarding how to best integrate the innovative services. Consistent WIB presence and support throughout the process with its many complications, such as partner staff turnover, multiple WIB priorities, etc., can ensure that efforts are not diffused unnecessarily. WIB and One-Stop operator policies may be modified to ensure that effective practices continue beyond the life of the grant and that accountability measures for implementing such practices are in place. Furthermore, the existence of a WIB liaison supports the team's focus and clarity of message in the systems goal of effectively meeting the needs of customers with barriers to employment.
Create opportunities to share success.
Each partner program serves an array of individuals, each with their own unique characteristics and challenges. Effective strategies, such as the Customized Employment process, self-employment opportunities, and specific support services produce benefits for broader populations. For example, flexible scheduling to ensure a good job fit for an employee with a disability may also prove effective for an older worker, a recipient of Temporary Assistance for Needy Family (TANF) who is raising children, and/or a military veteran receiving medical treatment. Further, effective practices and lessons learned through the various special projects and grant initiatives and implemented through the system may be generalized across the system. These strategies, only when shared among partners, can be infused into the larger system of service delivery, ensuring that opportunities for positive outcomes are being maximized. Establishing partner-management meetings allows partners to understand each others' programs as well as the training and employment strategies worthy of integrating into the larger system's menu of services.
Allow and train for greater flexibility in staff roles.
To encourage collaboration at a local level and to work through the numerous elements of systems and practical change required for a progressive employment system, staff must be empowered to engage in activities beyond those listed in a singularly focused job description. By having a partial involvement (.1 FTE, for example) in other institutional priorities (e.g., policy and partnership development, outreach, skill development, etc.), staff become more wholly engaged in the larger mission of the organization. Such involvement could be promoted through participation in task forces, team meetings, and the like.
In addition to staff involvement in organizational activities, staff need flexibility in how they provide services to their customers. Policies, organizational practices, and attitudes that limit the staff person's ability to engage in activities in the community constrict the services they can provide both to businesses and to job seekers. If a staff person does not have the opportunity to interact with both sets of customers in their own environments, he or she will have a narrow view of what is possible and how to creatively meet the needs of customers. What's more, staff will be unable to actively engage a wider range of partners to assist in the delivery of Workforce development services.
Strengthening relationships with business provides a cornerstone for Customized Employment.
When building relationships with employers, business services staff might pay particular attention to the individual business's needs, challenges, and goals. By working collaboratively with business, staff will provide more effective business services overall (beyond just taking job orders) and lay the groundwork for later negotiations with the employer around individual job seekers' needs. This focus on addressing both job seeker and business needs is critical to the success of the One-Stop.
Expect and support self-direction in job seekers.
The degree of self-direction expected from customers varies among systems. Whereas the generic One-Stop system typically expects self-direction, specialized systems such as Community Rehabilitation Programs (CRPs) for people with disabilities may provide more support. In either case, staff should be trained to allow for, encourage, and support self-direction. In specialty systems, this means providing services in a way that best supports the individual's goals and desires. In the generic system, it often means training staff to recognize that many job seekers will require some assistance to form goals and to make meaningful choices. Many more people will require assistance navigating the generic system. Training in self-determination and self-direction should be made available to staff (and potentially to the job seekers).