WorkFORCE Action Grant in Vancouver, WA:
Grant number, name, and location: WorkFORCE Action Grant 03, Vancouver, WA, #E-9-4-3-0074
Grant recipient: Columbia River Mental Health Services
Project lead: Gregory Robinson/Melodie Pazolt, Columbia River Mental Health Services
Subcontractors: Southern Washington Workforce Development Council (SWWDC), Keys to Advancement, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), Service Master, Community Empowerment Project, and the Wakiukum Project.
Clearview Employment Services of Columbia River Mental Health (a community rehabilitation provider herein referred to as "Clearview") and the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council (the Local Workforce Investment Board) and its One-Stop Career Center (One Stop) constitute the primary partnership of this grant. In addition, the subcontract with Keys to Advancement was established for the recruitment of persons with developmental disabilities to the project. The partnership with the Wakiukum project was formed to support the employment needs of persons in rural areas. The Community Empowerment Project (CEP) provided training and focus group services. Evaluation and some training for the project was supplied by UMDNJ. Service Master was originally brought in for small-business development.
- The pre-existing One-Stop Business Service Unit (BSU) was organized according to industry, which allowed staff to become embedded and immersed in their particular industries and to build trust and relationships with employers.
- All BSU staff maintained a focus on disability, infusing a range of employer-related activities with disability information, and served as in-house experts and resources.
- An employer consultant was a valuable addition to the team, acting as a resource on the challenges of starting a small business, including purchasing equipment, filing taxes, marketing, accounting, bookkeeping, and the development of a business plan.
Customization of Standard Service Provision
The LWIB in Vancouver used a sector approach to strengthen its outreach to the business community and to build strong links with regional economic-development agencies with whom they are co-located. The LWIB established working groups that focused on long-term planning with respect to target industries. Each committee consisted of at least one LWIB member as well as people engaged in the target sectors. Using a wholesale approach, the boards looked at whole sectors at a time rather than one employer and its needs. Through this initiative, LWIB staff partnered with Business Service Representatives (BSR) as well as the local economic-development agency. According to LWIB staff, the sector strategy "translates into efforts of re-training (or initial training of) the workforce professionals (One-Stop Business Services staff) to provide supports to those target industries and then wrap that all into a relationship-based process."
The Business Service Unit organized employer-support staff according to industry, giving business service representatives the opportunity to fine-tune marketing strategies, develop expertise, form trusted relationships with employers, coordinate hiring events, and conduct workshops for employers in their particular industries. In addition, representatives learned the value of creating strategic plans for meeting the needs of their unique industries. Account representatives from each industry also engaged in "user groups," in which they brainstormed with employers about employer human resources issues. The goal was not to bring on more employers but rather to develop closer relationships and trust with existing employers and for representatives to become "embedded and immersed" in their industries.
Being embedded in a business not only allowed the account representatives an insider's understanding from which to make appropriate suggestions but also created a natural opportunity to for job carving for applicants, including those with disabilities.
Taking this concept one step further, one of the Vancouver account representatives maintained a focus on disability and became responsible for training other representatives as well as infusing an awareness of disability throughout all outreach activities. She offered technical assistance and consulting services to employers while training BSRs to look at the possibilities for people with disabilities (i.e., job carving, job creation) as they practiced the immersion technique. This person's job was not to be the only person who could discuss disability with employers but rather to be an in-house expert and resource who shared her expertise with other representatives through direct assistance and ongoing involvement with employer-service activities. This also trained BSRs in such areas as disability accommodations, tax incentives for hiring individuals with disabilities, and the free services provided by One-Stops related to hiring an applicant with a disability (click here for more information).
Initially, it was the Business Service Representative funded under the Workforce Action Grant whose job it was to impart a disability perspective to employer outreach. However, over time this task has become the responsibility of all Business Service Representatives. "It has become part of their regular toolbox in working with employers." Each Business Service Representative has been charged with "mentoring" employers on hiring job seekers with disabilities, and a VR staff person has been integrated into the business service team.
Institutionalization of Customized Employment Practices
Of the several customized employment practices that have been implemented in the One-Stop, one significant addition has been the hiring of a small-business consultant, an employer consultant with whom the center and Clearview had already worked.
The employer consultant has acted as a resource on the logistics of starting a small business, helped develop marketing materials, and trained BSRs on approaching employers. The employer consultant has worked with job seekers and a staff person from Clearview to brainstorm ideas about starting a small business, anticipating barriers, and developing solutions, especially in the planning phase. This consultant has been instrumental in coaching job seekers through each of the defining steps of starting one's own business, and has done everything from helping purchase equipment, advising on taxes, setting up bank accounts (working with a local bank to help with small-business start-up), and acting as a liaison to marketing, accounting, bookkeeping, and legal professionals.
She also assists with reviewing business plans and business development. Through this initiative, a customized employment service rarely used in the past, more individuals have successfully started businesses or are in the start-up phase of a business than ever before.
Impact of Grant
The impact of the grant's collaborative efforts is most concretely seen in the many innovative activities occurring at the service delivery level. These include: the integration of the work of the Disability Business Expert with that of the Business Service Unit account representatives; broader training and better availability of Assistive Technology at the One-Stop center; a job club developed jointly between Clearview and the One-Stop; and broader availability or better access to the resources and funding of the One-Stop partners.
The partnership, and thus the effort at the service delivery level, has impacted the One-Stop very positively, increasing the breadth, quality, and quantity of services to persons with disabilities.
A greater number of persons with disabilities are now being served by the One-Stop. In addition, Clearview and Keys to Advancement are serving more people with a greater variety of customized employment services. Particularly at Clearview, with the addition of both small-business development and accessing One-Stop funding, such as On-the-Job Traning, Individual Training Accounts, and Workforce Investment Act, customized employment for One-Stop customers has been widely enhanced (click here for more examples). The most significant systemic effects have been the braiding of resources or funding; the regular cooperation and collaboration of staff from the two lead partners; and the integration of job development for persons with disabilities with that of business services at the One-Stop to fill employer human resources needs.