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Transition Adjustment Career Education:
Policy and Systemic Influence
Grant number, name, and location: Transition Adjustment Career Education (TACE), El Paso TX, #E-994-2-0091
Grant recipient: Upper Rio Grande Workforce Development Board, Inc. (Workforce Investment Board)
Project lead: The contract shifted from El Paso Community College to the One-Stop operator, SERCO on September 30, 2005.
Subcontractors: Consultant Joseph Skiba, effective October 1, 2005
El Paso County is the fifth poorest jurisdiction in the U.S. The city of El Paso is situated at the U.S./Mexico border, making it--with its sister city, Juarez, Mexico--the largest border community in the world. Spanish the primary language in El Paso. The majority of workers cross the border to their places of employment, both from Mexico to El Paso and vice versa.
- As a result of the pressures on employment programs, decreases in program funding, and frequent staff turnover, providers of Customized Employment services need continued support and technical assistance, as well as a mechanism to ensure that training on disability and employment is provided systemically.
- Alternatives to standardized assessment tools--such as discovery, path planning, and other customer-centered approaches--contribute more meaningful information concerning employment direction and planning for customers with disabilities.
- Achieving systems change requires WIB-level investment and commitment. It is critical that the board communicate values throughout the process, and propose and support concrete steps for effecting change.
- Examining the current service delivery structure creates an entry point for the expansion of roles and functions to provide Customized Employment.
Policy and Systemic Barriers
The perceived negative impact on performance measures when serving customers with barriers to employment (for example, the additional up-front exploration, planning, and job development time needed and/or the wage increase/job retention measures to be met) could make partner staff reluctant to enroll job seekers with disabilities. Clear guidance, monitoring, and the removal of systemic disincentives such as current performance measures were needed.
Multiple programs with distinct funding streams and eligibility criteria created challenges to developing a truly comprehensive, cohesive workforce development system. Redundancy and service delivery gaps existed. Through Process Mapping analysis, this system strove to fully understand multiple program processes, find effective ways for those processes to be more successful, and ensure that true value was being provided to customers.
WIB provider programs conducted process mapping sessions to examine their Adult and TANF service delivery tracts. They examined referral procedures and practices, interface with customers, feedback, and tension points to create a system-level customer flow diagram. They also identified system strengths as well as opportunities for improvement. At the time of this report, the WIB and One-Stop operator were making determinations to determine which effective practices, corresponding goals, and action steps to incorporate. Those under consideration included identifying benchmarks to use for comparisons against other systems; redesigning the system to limit hand-offs and redundancies; addressing decisions around customers in a more unified way; and filling gaps in service delivery.
The WIB expanded its website to be more inclusive and accessible for job seekers with disabilities (www.urgwdb.org). The site highlighted Customized Employment services within the generic menu of One-Stop services for eligible individuals. Success stories were also highlighted, and customers with disabilities better integrated into workforce activities such as the "Hire El Paso" television show showcasing job seekers and employers. The site provided a comprehensive listing of consortium members and the resources they offer. Website accessibility was enhanced using guidelines developed by NCWD/A.
Through the website, the WIB marketed its ability to assist employers with identifying, hiring, and retaining a diverse workforce. They used Customized Employment strategies to help employers identify their unmet business needs by examining operations and identifying how the skill sets of specific job seekers with disabilities could meet those needs. The site also provided information and resources for employers (www.urgwdb.org), including information on accommodations, tax incentives, and ADA compliance in the workplace.
Through the TACE project, the Upper Rio Grande Workforce Development Board addressed specific policies and procedures to enhance service delivery and outcomes for customers with disabilities. When seeking an operator for its One-Stop, the WIB included specific language, commitment, and services in the contract to ensure that people with disabilities had access to quality employment services through the workforce system. For example, a minimum percentage (5%, to be increased each year) of job seekers with disabilities were to be served through the system. The operator also had to become an Employment Network provider under Social Security's Ticket to Work program. The contract required that a dedicated staff member oversee the Ticket program. Those customers must have access to Customized Employment services to meet their employment needs.
The contract also addressed staffing and service provision. Specifically, frontline One-Stop staff had time dedicated to attending a training series that enhanced their capacity to provide Customized Employment services, including conducting individualized assessments, developing portfolios, and conducting negotiations with employers for a mutually beneficial job fit. To meet the comprehensive needs of customers with disabilities, One-Stop case management staff would have to meet on a regular basis with key consortium members who contributed goods and services to the project. In turn, staff would address the core and ancillary needs of customers, ensuring that a range of services was considered (e.g., portfolio vs. resume development) and delivered in the most effective manner for the job seeker.
These strategies were identified to ensure that the operator was committed to serving the El Paso community with barriers to employment. By including language in the operator's contract, the benefits gained from the project--including innovative, effective employment strategies for workers with disabilities, and expanding the capacity of the system to serve diverse groups through the One-Stop--would be sustained beyond the life of the project.
As the project wound down, the operator continued to work on integrating Customized Employment services into the One-Stop. Through project efforts, the service structure was examined to find the best fit of Customized Employment role and function within the system. For example, the project examined the possibility that One-Stop case manager and job developer responsibilities could include the flexibility to customize the exploration/assessment process. Other options included more individualized representation to employers by the business services staff, utilizing job carving, job negotiation and job creation with an increased emphasis on job tasks, conditions, contributions, and preferences in employment.
The WIB revised its Testing and Assessment policy to allow for the provision of Customized Employment services using formula funds and customer-centered strategies. The policy allowed alternatives to the typical standardized assessment tools and practices. Instead, assessment strategies used would be based on the individual job seeker. Alternative assessment strategies were introduced, ranging from interest inventories to the discovery process for customers with disabilities. This was a major shift in the standardized approach to assessment that had previously been used.
The WIB and consortium also revised operator case management policies. Alternatives to the traditional case management model were included, specifically to coordinate service delivery through interdisciplinary team meetings for job seekers receiving Customized Employment services. Additional case manager roles included integrating interdisciplinary team information into an IEP, making referrals for alternate assessments, providing follow-along with referring agencies, and identifying accommodations as needed throughout the training process.
WIB Subcommittee on Disability
To sustain the accomplishments of the project and maintain disability as a priority, a subcommittee was being established to advise the WIB on the Customized Employment project, program service sustainability, and employment issues such as recruiting, hiring, and training opportunities for individuals with disabilities. This disability council was to be comprised of members of the consortium and would potentially target areas such as ensuring equal opportunity and access to the system, developing relevant policies (e.g. accommodations), and identifying new or ongoing community initiatives for the employment of job seekers with disabilities.