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Policy and Systemic Influence
Grant number, name, and location: Customized Works! Flint MI, E-9-4-3-0103
Grant recipient: The Genesee/Shiawassee Workforce Development Board
Project lead: Michigan Works! Career Alliance, Inc., the administrative entity of the two Customized Employment Project Michigan Works! Service Center sites
Local characteristics: Note that the project's two sites are in two separate counties, one very rural and one urban. While Michigan struggles overall, with a current unemployment rate of 6.8% as compared to the national average of 4.7%, the city of Flint (the largest city in Genesee County) has one of highest unemployment rates in the state at 8.0%. Shiawassee, the other county served under the grant, also has an unemployment rate of 8.0%. This rate does not reflect recent notices of company closures in July 2006.
- Employment for All provided technical assistance to the project through September 2005. The agency was contracted to provide staff training and supported employment research and application.
- The Disability Network, a Center for Independent Living and Assistive Technology Center, was contracted to provide technical assistance around assistive technology, inclusion, and disability expertise throughout the life of the project.
- Formative Evaluation Research Associates conducted independent evaluations of all components of the grant program through the life of the project. Areas of evaluation included trainings, staff performance, provider activities, and customer satisfaction. The group also participated in the development and implementation of the strategic plan.
- Embedding grant personnel within the One-Stop core services created the opportunity to mentor staff, alleviate concerns about serving people with disabilities, and enhance collaborative efforts with all partners within the One-Stop system. This information and referral position also resulted in customers more readily disclosing their hidden disability than occurred through the customary registration process. Therefore, customers could receive the supports needed to achieve employment successfully.
- Given the prevalent labor-market-driven approach of the workforce system, partners and staff needed support to shift their thinking toward customizing options based on the customers' skills abilities and preferences for the best match and most successful outcome. This was especially true when the unemployment rate of the state and local community was particularly high (as of July 2006 7.4%) as compared to the national average of 4.7%). This statistic, coupled with the closing of multiple large businesses in the community, often resulted in job seekers with disabilities being overlooked when competing for jobs with non-disabled applicants
- The availability of Social Security disability benefits planning resource located within the One-Stop was crucial. In addition, the Social Security systemic disincentives for beneficiaries to work to their maximum potential must be addressed.
- Higher expectations and accountability of WIA vendors needed to be promoted through RFP contract language. When that was done, customization of services and the tools of Customized Employment could be communicated as an expectation of service provision.
Influence on the Local One-Stop System
Through the training opportunities made available by the Customized Works! project, partner agencies within this large system gained additional tools with which to effectively provide employment services, particularly to people with complexities that interfered with obtaining and maintaining employment. Initially Customized Employment trainings were provided to the range of Career Alliance providers and partners through grant resources such as NCWD/A webinars (link to Customized Employment: It Works! and Customized Employment Teleconference Series trainings) and on-site trainings through subcontracts with Employment for All and The Disability Network. The challenge here concerned continued professional development for staff around disability issues. The project was working with its board to determine how such training could be supported beyond grant funding. For example, mutual contributions from all partners could enable local experts to conduct a standardized training schedule. Staff proposed to the operator that the training program be made available twice per year.
Job developers from One-Stop partner agencies starting holding monthly meetings in response to a stated system need. Job developers faced a number of issues assisting populations with whom they did not previously have expertise or experience. Through these groups, they began to develop peer support and professional development around negotiating with employers and supporting specific populations with their employment goals. Twelve months of job developer training was implemented that included information and resources concerning how to assist ex-offenders, many of whom have learning disabilities, mental health, and/or substance abuse issues. One-Stop job developers also identified more intensive peer support and technical assistance strategies such as participation in Customized Works! employment-planning meetings for identified customers. This gave the job developers a mentoring and skill development opportunity that enabled them to improve services to their own program customers with barriers to employment. An additional outcome of these activities was that they encouraged job developers to work more collaboratively.
Another collaboration opportunity was a monthly training program developed for the One-Stop providers to help them understand their community partners. This training program, "Meet Your Neighbor," was established in response to a need identified at a strategic planning meeting by partner agencies. It offered the opportunity for various programs, including Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS), Michigan Commission for the Blind, Michigan School for the Deaf, the Small Business Administration, Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce, and others, to educate their partners regarding the range of services they provided, populations they served, and opportunities for further collaboration. This strategy also enlightened providers and partners about the increased services that customers can receive as a result of blending and braiding funds.
Grant funds established an information and referral position (I&R) for customers who needed additional time and support to access One-Stop services effectively. It was not necessary for people to self-identify their disability or specific barriers to employment in order to use this support. It was found, however, that customers had an increased readiness and willingness to disclose their disability because they greatly needed effective employment services. The I&R staff person was available to help individuals get oriented to the system and identify and access typical services, as well as supplemental support services for those who were eligible. Examples of supports provided included telephone access, transportation passes, and assistance with using the assistive technology available in the resource room. In addition, based on individual eligibility and need, co-referrals occurred with non-mandated partners who offered additional supports such as food, shelter, childcare, elder care, and assistance with shutoff and eviction notices.
The I&R staff person's office was located adjacent to the Employment Services resource room. This visibility maximized the use of core services. It also created opportunities to demonstrate effective service delivery strategies for customers with barriers to accessing services and employment opportunities who might otherwise drop out of or get lost in the system. The project collected data to quantify the time needed and types of support services most frequently utilized to assist customers who were not able to use self-directed services effectively.
As the value of such services was recognized, the workforce development board aspired to sustain this position beyond the life of the project. The I&R position allowed the One-Stop to provide more individualized services to customers with barriers to employment who did not benefit from a self-serve resource room. The I&R specialist could work one-on-one with customers, providing varying styles of job exploration and Customized Employment services to eligible participants.
Common Intake Form
Genesee Health Plan and the Urban Health and Wellness Center at the University of Michigan-Flint began an initiative to enhance quality of life in the region by focusing on health promotion, wellness, and disease prevention with diverse populations who were uninsured. Together, the Customized Works! project and Genesee Health Plan planned to collaborate on developing a common intake form for members who required employment services, community human services, and health care assistance. This common intake form would help identify first, One-Stop customers' health care needs, and second, the number of individuals who did not qualify for health care benefits under Medicare and Medicaid guidelines. Resources will be available through Genesee Health Plan to help develop the common intake form.
The Genesee/Shiawassee Workforce Investment Board (WIB) recognized the substantial need within the local community to address the health care needs of residents with disabilities who were uninsured and not receiving health care benefits from the Social Security disability benefits programs. The total number of uninsured people in both counties was ever-increasing due to the mass closings of businesses, high unemployment rate, and employers' tendency to hire part-time workers to reduce health insurance coverage expenses.
The Customized Works! project received the continuous support of the WIB. Furthermore, the WIB chair's disability expertise created a natural fit with the overall mission of the WIB to promote the inclusion of all people at the One-Stop. Recognizing the value of Customized Employment principles led to the infusion of the values and language of Customized Employment into WIA providers' contracts. The project raised expectations for services to customers with disabilities and increased the accountability of vendors.
The CEO of Career Alliance--the One-Stop administrator--provided leadership towards the vision of an inclusive workforce system. Career Alliance staff embraced the Customized Employment initiative, and their involvement continued throughout the sustainability planning process. In addition to including Customized Employment language into provider RFPs, there was a commitment to sustaining the I&R position mentioned above, although ways to fund that position continued to be explored. Additionally, through Career Alliance leadership, the One-Stop initiated systems change efforts with both WIA and community partners. Subsequently, the state's interest was piqued by the system-wide effort to respond to the needs of employers through a "One Knock at the Door" approach to conducting outreach, job site analyses, and job development with employers.
Overall, there was a philosophical shift toward inclusion and collaboration within the Genesee and Shiawassee workforce development system. Bringing everyone to the table led to increased collaboration and involvement in achieving an all-inclusive system. The open-door policy held by the WIB chair and operator CEO promoted a welcoming message and easy access to the information and decision-making processes.
Influence on State Workforce Development System
In addition to having an impact on the local workforce development system, Customized Works! personnel had an opportunity to participate in the state's initiative to enhance accessibility for all individuals seeking services at the One-Stop. A statewide One-Stop Center inclusion work group worked towards a common goal of developing a fully inclusive One-Stop system. The group was comprised of the Department of Labor and Economic Development, the state director of MRS, the Career Alliance CEO and WIB chair, staff of the Customized Works! project, Detroit Workforce Development, and other collaborative entities. This effort was part of a yearlong initiative, which had as its goal the creation of a more accessible system. The work group focused on universal access to One-Stop facilities and programs across the state. Customized Works! provided information and resources related to Universal Strategies within the workforce development system developed through NCWD/A staff and partners.
These initiatives created an opportunity and impetus for further advancing the goal of inclusion. Through these collaborative universal design efforts, work towards a common goal of developing a fully inclusive One-Stop system integrated a systemic approach to ensuring universal access into One-Stop mandatory policies statewide. A full report with recommendations was developed, highlighting strategies for enhancing the universality of the system. The Michigan Works! association plans to provide a self-assessment checklist for the Michigan Works! One-Stops. Subsequent biannual site reviews will be conducted to further assist the One-Stops in achieving equitable services and outcomes.