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Maryland WorkFORCE Promise:
Policy and Systemic Influence


Project Overview

Grant number, name, and location: Maryland WorkFORCE Promise, Frederick MD, #E-9-493-0073

Grant recipient: Way Station, Inc.

Project lead: Way Station, Inc.

Subcontractors and partners: MD Department of Disabilities; MD Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; MD Division of Rehabilitation Services; MD Developmental Disabilities Administration; MD Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation; MD Division of Workforce Development; Frederick Community College (One-Stop operator); Independence Now (ILC); TransCen

Maryland Workforce Promise is a WorkFORCE Action grant received through Way Station, a provider of mental health employment, housing, and day supports in Frederick, MD. In addition to the broad scope of work it manages, Way Station enjoys close partnerships with the Frederick County Business and Employment Center; the Department of Disabilities; the Department of Rehabilitative Services; the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; the Developmental Disabilities Administration; the Department of Education; and the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (through which WIA funds are managed). These partnerships have been a key feature of the grant's success throughout its span.

Key Lessons/Accomplishments

  • Broad state and local partnerships are essential to coordinated systems change.
  • Forming a common set of goals that transcends systems is a prerequisite to meaningful systemic coordination.
  • Business is a key partner and customer of the workforce development system.

Employment System Transformation Steering Committee

The Maryland Workforce Promise project focused much of its energy on a systems change campaign at the state level. Project staff helped coordinate the Employment System Transformation steering committee by employing existing ties to the state Department of Disabilities (DOD), the Department of Rehabilitation Services (DORS), the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH), the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA), the Department of Education (DOE), and the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (DLLR, through which WIA funds were managed). The committee's stated purpose was to "initiate a comprehensive examination of the employment service system for Marylanders with disabilities." In addition to the above-named agencies, the committee had representatives from provider agencies, consumers, and advocates.

The steering committee listed the following goals (click here for more information):

  • Establish common employment definitions
  • Set value-driven outcomes
  • Create a vision/map for what the system should look like
  • Define initial action steps towards realizing the vision

Through the course of its work, the steering committee generated numerous recommendations to various state systems (see Executive Summary). These were commonly agreed to be the most important features of an evolving employment system. Key recommendations included:

  • Define a system to measure outcomes: Agencies should work together to determine up to three cross-agency measurable outcomes.
  • Establish a sub-cabinet group consisting of representatives from DOD, DORS, DHMH, DDA, DOE, and DLLR to make decisions regarding employment services for people with disabilities. Compared with the current steering committee, this group would have the force of policy and regulation, and a much more integral influence on the course of services. It would seek to ensure strong interagency partnership and coordinated interagency services.
  • Increase marketing to employers, including increasing the capacity of One-Stop business service units to better serve individuals with disabilities through training and implementing various national best practices on business service unit design.
  • Increase the state's capacity to provide technical assistance to businesses hiring individuals with disabilities, or maintaining the employment of current workers who had become disabled.
  • Develop a quick computerized assessment tool for cross-agency eligibility.
  • Increase the use of person-centered planning and self-determination techniques by various public agencies and service providers.

The means to implement these recommendations through the various agencies was also part of these discussions, and constituted much of the focus of the continued work of the Workforce Promise project.

The grant demonstrated an important best practice regarding systems change. By enlisting all of the various agencies in a change effort from the beginning, achieving stakeholder buy-in did not become a major stumbling block. Although the process became far more difficult as the project struggled to include the perspectives and priorities of various agencies, each party had agreed upon and bought into the final product. Staff envisioned that implementing the recommendations would likely be as difficult and lengthy, but they could aspire to a scope and comprehensiveness unusual in work like this precisely because they had been so inclusive.

Workforce Promise had the advantage of being represented by Way Station, a longstanding agency with considerable relationships and reputation in the state. The Workforce Promise project capitalized on this credibility to bring the necessary people to the table.

Customized Employment in State Hiring

As a result of the grant project's ongoing work with DOD, the state was crafting policies that would allow for Customized Employment hiring techniques in state government for new hires, and replace work previously done through state preferred procurement contracts (of the NISH or JWOD style). The details of this change were still in development as of this report. To a large extent, DOD--which was spearheading the movement at the state level with the governor's active support--modeled its efforts on earlier supported employment hiring policies in Washington and other states.

The project struggled with the conflict between individually driven Customized Employment and the knowledge that most state hiring entailed very strict job descriptions and guidelines. Project staff hoped that seeking to change the state's preferred procurement process to a model fostering greater individualization would allow the flexibility they sought to begin this change.