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Boston WorkFORCE Action Grant:
Grant number, name, and location: Massachusetts WorkFORCE Action Grant; Boston MA, #E-9-4-2-0113
Grant recipient: Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston
Project lead: Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston
Subcontractors: South Coastal Workforce Board; Work Inc., a community rehabilitation provider; Disability Law Center; New England Council, a business alliance; and Career Point, a One-Stop host for local demonstration
The Massachusetts WorkFORCE Action Grant expanded competitive Customized Employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities to participate fully in their communities. Two One-Stop Career Centers served as host sites and employment resources for the demonstration project. They were responsible for the individualized employment planning and job placement of individuals with significant disabilities into integrated competitive employment.
- Sustainable systems change within the workforce development system requires board-level leadership to champion the effort. This champion should have the leadership skills to steer the mission and foster improved coordination/collaboration among agencies within and outside the workforce development system.
- A cultural dissonance exists between One-Stop and Customized Employment services. The One-Stop system has self-directed services and a large customer base; Customized Employment is individualized. Integrating these service delivery models has been a significant challenge.
- Customers need timely access to job coach and other support funding.
The WAG used three primary strategies to enhance the One-Stop's capacity to serve customers with disabilities: training, the disability program navigator, and the presence of grant personnel.
The grant included a strong training and technical assistance component. Technical assistance activities focused on core service delivery and better use of community partners to support Customized Employment, as illustrated in the section on collaborative service delivery below. The grant provided training to One-Stop staff throughout the life of the project. This included a series covering topics such as career development for job seekers with disabilities, alternate strategies for identifying employment skills, and the use of assistive technology in career planning and employment. The Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) also collaborated with the Boston Center for Independent Living to provide training for job seekers with disabilities. Training topics included housing resources, SSI/DI work incentives, One-Stop Career Center services, and the Ticket to Work program.
The receptivity of staff to continue training posed a challenge, as not all One-Stops maintained a learning culture. This initial resistance resulted in shifting the approach for staff professional development to service delivery mentoring and technical assistance. Ultimately, all staff within the host One-Stops developed some level of competence in meeting the needs of job seekers with disabilities.
Project participants were job seekers with significant disabilities. With minimal experience and training in serving job seekers with disabilities, it was a challenge for staff members to meet participants' employment needs. Project personnel worked closely with One-Stop staff to demonstrate effective communication, innovative employment strategies such as Customized Employment, and ways to access support services through the system. Although skill development occurred, the learning curve was too great, particularly given the time-limited nature of the project. Grant staff learned that One-Stop staff needed a baseline competence/foundation in disability issues in order to meet customers' needs effectively.
For this reason, grant staff decided to contract with a local community rehabilitation provider, Work Inc., to deliver Customized Employment services through the One-Stops. The decision to subcontract with Work Inc. was carefully considered, as integration with One-Stop services and impact on the larger system could be somewhat compromised using this model. However, advantages included the fact that the Workforce Investment Board had no ability to monitor, guide, or evaluate their staff and therefore could not gauge the effectiveness of services for customers with disabilities. The grant needed supervision. The newly adopted model also made more staffing resources available. Finally, Work Inc. was well versed in the Olmstead decision and aligned with the vision of the bill. As the agency's relationships with the One-Stop developed over the course of the project, collaborations and service delivery improved.
Collaboration proved to be the most effective learning methodology, including joint delivery of services for one customer at a time and opportunities for joint core service delivery. Co-facilitating resume-writing workshops, for example, met with great success. The workshops built a collaborative working relationship between project personnel and One-Stop staff, who began to recognize the value of working as a team with a unified goal. WAG and One-Stop staff conducted outreach to customers with disabilities and applied multi-modal approaches. As a result, a greater number of customers with disabilities attended, and the workshops better served individuals with other barriers to comprehending and retaining the information. Ultimately, One-Stop staff adopted a more "universal design" perspective on their core workshop offerings. A local One-Stop Career Center also provided targeted training on issues relevant to job seekers with disabilities, such as disclosure, networking, and how to access One-Stop services.
Project personnel alternated shifts for staffing the One-Stop front desk. The availability of project personnel within the One-Stop promoted easy access to disability information, customer access to services, One-Stop staff skill development, and expertise on disability issues in employment. These strategies were much more effective than imposing training on a system that did not recognize its utility.
Impact on Standard Workforce Practices
In addition to internal availability of disability expertise, the grant made a significant impact on the workforce system by creating awareness of and collaboration with the disability services system. By working jointly with community providers, One-Stop staff learned about the various disability employment resources available to customers, as well as the concepts of job coaching and long-term supports. Work Inc. was a substantial vendor of employment services for the disability community. Through case collaboration and use of One-Stop services, Work Inc. recognized the value of the workforce development system for job seekers with disabilities. This awareness stimulated ideas for future joint business ventures with the system.
Similarly, a local day treatment program for people with mental health issues was located near the One-Stop yet had not utilized the center's employment services. After the grant began, program staff assisted their clients to use core services and connect with the disability program navigator. Through the project's capacity-building activities and the increased utilization of the system by job seekers with disabilities, One-Stop staff developed new patterns of behavior and realized improved employment outcomes.
A true convergence of the WAG, disability program navigator, and Massachusetts Medicaid Infrastructure and Comprehensive Employment Opportunities initiatives (described in Boston WAG, partnership and collaboration report) occurred, as evidenced by an examination of the One-Stop business services unit. The Division of Career Services (part of the state Department of Workforce Development) strengthened the One-Stop system by using technology and innovative business practices to maximize resources. Through activities spurred by the WAG and disability program navigator, and funded through the Medicaid grant, the Division of Career Services planned to examine business services approaches regarding the ways job seekers with disabilities linked with employers. Job analysis and employer negotiations, as demonstrated through Customized Employment strategies, may be adopted as a standard service of the One-Stop system.
Collaborative Service Delivery
As a WAG implementer, project eligibility consisted of individuals with disabilities who wanted to 1) move from nursing homes or other institutions or residential facilities to the community, 2) continue living in the community, 3) achieve economic self-sufficiency, or 4) attain full access to and participation in the community. Project participants were people with significant disabilities recruited from local day treatment programs, sheltered workshops, and clubhouses. These participants were to be provided services through the One-Stop system.
The complexity of the Massachusetts workforce system made collaboration all the more challenging. The South Coastal Workforce Board was physically located within the Quincy Career Center, which employed staff from both the Division of Career Services and the city of Quincy. At initial implementation, the Quincy mayor was relatively new. These multiple layers made it difficult to identify the lines of authority.
However, the project used multiple partners' funding successfully. Two career development specialists (CDS) from Work Inc. were designated as service delivery leads. The project established referral relationships with a variety of providers from the Department of Mental Retardation (DMR) and Department of Mental Health systems, including South Shore Industries, Discovery Day Treatment Program, the Work Inc. sheltered work program, Atlantic House (a Mental Health service provider, and a local head injury program. The One-Stop provided the primary base of operations, capitalizing on the opportunity to increase staff exposure to customers with significant disabilities and enhance collaborative efforts.
Participants completed eligibility forms with assistance from the CDS as needed. In alignment with procedures typically provided to One-Stop customers, participants were then entered into the Massachusetts One-Stop Employment System database to register with the One-Stop. Both group and individualized orientations were offered based on the individual's needs. The CDS then worked with One-Stop staff to mentor and provide technical assistance for customer service delivery. ICI provided oversight, including monitoring service delivery and the provision of innovative person-centered approaches to job seeker exploration and assessment.
Following the development of an employment plan, the CDS negotiated with community employers to establish the best fit based on job seeker skills and employer need. Once placed, on-the-job training and job coaching services were provided as needed. Most often, the CDS braided multiple programs' resources in order to accomplish this. For example, individuals referred by a DMR vendor might receive job placement services through WAG resources, DMR transportation resources for their daily commute, and job coaching from both WAG staff and the DMR vendor. Eligible participants could access additional funding for long-term job coaching through the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission's Community-Based Employment Services.
The flexible funds within the project were easy to access and fostered collaboration among providers. The local clubhouse contributed to braided services, beginning to provide job coaching supports for members who secured employment through the Customized Employment expertise of project staff. Through these activities, project staff helped systems to think differently about how they allocated resources. One job seeker attended a community college for training in childcare and received funding for tuition, job development, and college supplies through the project. Through DMR funding, South Shore Industries provided educational supports and transportation to this participant, also contributing to her success.
Still, staff encountered challenges when using multiple program and service dollars to meet the needs of any one individual. When a person moved from a sheltered workshop to community employment, for example, DMR funding could not "follow" the individual for job coaching supports in the community. Rather, program funding was used for back-filled workshop slots. DMR addressed this issue within its own system, and staff learned how funding could be shifted to support community-based placements. Within the Department of Mental Health system, clubhouse staff encountered difficulties accessing job coaching services for members when the staff did not provide the actual placement service. After gaining regional-level support, it was recognized that this was more a cultural issue within the clubhouse model than a policy or procedural mandate. Afterwards the clubhouse, more experienced with service collaboration, capitalized on various employment resources (from One-Stops to community providers) and provided job coaching services as possible.
MRC Community-Based Employment Services funding was invaluable for job seekers who lacked other resources to support them on the job. Project participants successfully maintained their jobs as a result of this funding mechanism. However, the process for accessing the funds was lengthy and laborious. This could jeopardize employer connections and the ability to secure employment opportunities. The system needed easier access to funds to expedite the employment process and ensure that opportunities were not lost.
Workforce Investment Board Leadership
An important aspect of systems change within the workforce system was having a specific Board representative to "champion" efforts. This champion needed the leadership skills to steer the mission and foster improved coordination/collaboration among agencies both within and outside the workforce development system. Throughout the course of the project, that leadership was lost; Support for the project diminished after the Board's executive director resigned. Board-level allies are critical to the success of systems change efforts, and can significantly influence the values and support at all levels. Prior to the executive director's departure, efforts were made to explore a jointly funded sustainability effort for a Customized Employment initiative that would include resources from the Department of Transitional Assistance, DMR, the Department of Mental Health, and the Mass. Rehabilitation Commission. At the time of this writing, the initiative had not materialized.