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Benton-Franklin Customized Employment Project:
Partnership and Collaborative Efforts


Project Overview

Grant number, name, and location: Benton-Franklin Customized Employment Grant, Kennewick WA, SGA 02-13

Grant recipient: Benton-Franklin Workforce Development Board

Project lead: Three Workforce Development Boards: Benton-Franklin, Eastern Washington Partnership, and South Central Workforce Council (formerly Tri-County Workforce Development Council)

Subcontractors: Washington Workforce Association; Institute for Community Inclusion/UMass Boston; the following community-based providers: Provident/Horizon Services (Yakima, WA), Elmview (Ellensburg, WA), Palouse Industries (Pullman, WA), and Rural Resources (Colville, WA)

Partners: The primary partners in this grant were the three Workforce Investment Boards responsible for service delivery of WIA and other workforce and economic development services in the great majority of eastern Washington (except for the Greater Spokane metropolitan area). The Benton-Franklin Workforce Development Council (WDC) served as the grant's lead agency, fiscal agent, and applicant. The council subcontracted grant activities to two other WDCs-- South Central and Eastern Washington Partnership. The Benton-Franklin WorkSource (One-Stop Center) began developing and piloting the project in year one. At the end of year one, the project was implemented within the other two WDCs. Each WDC had the flexibility to implement the grant according to local priorities and partnerships.

Key Lessons

  • Effective systems changes requires involvement at all levels of the system: national, state and local. This linkage allows for all participants to learn from one another and provides a networking forum.
  • Integration into existing partnerships or collaborations brings the right people to the table quickly, reducing the time needed to establish relationships.
  • Change is not likely to be sustained unless infrastructure components are institutionalized (training, referrals, pathways, funding).
  • The Developmental Disability and Mental Health systems can be and have been valuable partners. However, this relationship needs to be strengthened systemically. Otherwise, these populations will be underemployed and remain outside the One-Stop system.


Building from Other Grant Initiatives

Prior to receiving the Customized Employment grant, the state of Washington had been involved in several other initiatives focusing on employment of persons with disabilities. The Washington Workforce Association (WWA), the statewide association of Washington State's 12 local WDCs that oversaw the state's workforce development system, was the fiscal agent and coordinating agency for the statewide Work Incentive grant (WIG). The following statewide outcomes of the WIG efforts served as a basis for the Customized Employment grant activities:

  • A statewide pool of funds ($40,000) was created to seed a centralized technology and accommodation assistance fund, which included purchasing assistive technology for many One-Stop Centers statewide.
  • The WIG partners developed and conducted a coordinated approach to One-Stop/WorkSource accessibility via statewide implementation of a WDC/WorkSource Self-Assessment Tool. This tool incorporated the Section 188 checklist as well as several other ADA physical access checklists.
  • Each WDC was asked to identify an existing staff member to be designated the "program accommodation and access coordinator" who was expected to be the on-site expert.
  • Partners held two statewide trainings in Customized Employment and disability awareness.

At the conclusion of the WIG in 2004, this broader advisory group evolved into the Washington Disability Network. This group had the purpose of developing statewide policy linkages, coordinating local systemic issues with statewide agencies responsible for resolving them, and advocating for the integration of customized strategies. The network also reported to the legislature the progress and results of the state's disability-related grants. Linkages were established between the grant and the network so that any recommendations or policy changes learned from the grantees could be forwarded for consideration.

Linkage with Public School System

Following an initiative of the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, a local consortium of school-to-work professionals was created in the fall of 2003. Called the Yakima County Transition Council, this group identified system issues/gaps to ensure a smooth transition into work. Members consisted of:

  • Customized Employment grant staff
  • South Central Workforce Council
  • Family Educator Partnership Project
  • Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic/Northwest Community Action Center (WIA-youth)
  • Yakima County Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD)
  • Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR)
  • Provident Services
  • Yakima Valley Opportunities Industrialization Center of Washington (WIA-youth)
  • Yakima Valley Community College
  • The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • Educational Service District 105 and the Yakima School District

Core team members worked together, provided in-service training to each other on each agency's programs and responsibilities, and developed a comprehensive Yakima County resource directory for transitioning youth with disabilities and their families. As project ideas emerged (Passport to Success, Career Start, and Project Search) Yakima Customized Employment grant staff, Yakima School District, and DVR provided staffing to facilitate implementation. Start-up funds from the Yakima County DDD implemented Project Search.

Passport to Success Replication
In the fall of 2004, WorkSource Yakima and county schools were selected as a replication site for the Passport to Success in collaboration with the Yakima School District and the Customized Employment grant. This project was funded by a Medicaid Infrastructure Grant, DVR, the Center for Change in Transition Services, and the Bellevue School District. The opportunity provided training and materials to replicate the Passport to Success initiative.

Passport to Success added job readiness, employability skills, internships, and local WorkSource linkages to the standard special education curriculum. Youth in the project developed resumes, participated in mock interviews, learned employability skills, and developed their own employment strategy as part of the IEP planning process. This curriculum was conducted in schools and at local WorkSource sites, which the students visited on regular field trips. Yakima Customized Employment grant staff facilitated workshops for the students and provided labor market information and site tours. Special education instructors visited WorkSource sites with the students, increasing their own knowledge of WorkSource services and agency linkages. Magellan, a youth-driven career awareness computer program, was also added to the curriculum. Six special education classrooms began using the Yakima WorkSource Center in 2005, facilitated by the Customized Employment grant staff.

Project SEARCH
The South Central Workforce Council established a Health Skills panel to address the local shortage of workers in all health professions. The panel of local employers, education, labor, and government representatives developed local solutions to address health care shortages. Project Search provided national examples of hospitals and other industries that had developed customized jobs for persons with disabilities to fill this shortage. The Yakima Customized Employment grant staff partnered with the Yakima County DDD office and a Washington State Developmental Disabilities Council grant on Workforce Development to sponsor an informational presentation on Project Search given to hospital administrators, community providers, special education directors, and WDC staff.

Provident, a community provider and grant partner, had already collaborated with Memorial Hospital to identify jobs that could be created, restructured, or redesigned. As of this writing, one person had already secured employment as a physical therapist aide. Complete replication began in the summer of 2006. Funding for the rollout of this initiative was provided in part by the Yakima County DDD.

In addition, an allied health curriculum was being developed. The group planned to identify training skills and courses at Yakima Valley Community College that would then be customized to focus on these high-growth occupational areas, thereby creating a career track for special education students. Initial pilots may be funded through the Yakima County DDD and the Washington State Developmental Disabilities Workforce grant. Additional support was being sought from the Health Skills panel locally as well as through the Washington Training and Education Board.