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Alaska Customized Employment Project:
Service Integration

07/2007

Project Overview

Grant number, name, and location: Alaska Customized Employment Project, Juneau, AK, E-9-4-2-0090

Grant Recipient: Alaska Workforce Investment Board

Project Lead: Alaska Vocational Rehabilitation

Subcontractors: The University of Alaska (Evaluator), Employment for All, and Marc Gold and Associates (Training and Technical Assistance)

Key Lessons/Accomplishments

  • Communication and collaboration among practitioners and policymakers must be efficient and ongoing so that the efforts of each will be well guided by the findings of the others.
  • Community providers can be key partners for One-Stop Career Centers (One Stop), especially if the providers are small and highly flexible; they provide a level of flexibility and community connectedness that is difficult for One-Stop staff, who are often tied to a center, to develop.
  • A strong partnership between Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies, One-Stops, and community providers can be an extremely dynamic mix; under the right circumstances, these three agencies can coordinate to provide a wide range of comprehensive services and the funding that will ensure their delivery.

The Alaska Customized Employment Grant (CEG) based its practices in One-Stops, particularly the best practices of customized employment. In each of the five sites the grant was implemented in (Anchorage, Kenai, Juneau, Fairbanks, and Wassilla), there was a staff person whose duties revolved entirely around the CEG. He or she would coordinate customer customized employment services (Discovery, job search and negotiation, etc.) as well as the meetings and systems work that took place as a result of the grant. To better establish the principles of customized employment into One-Stops as a permanent feature, activities were channeled primarily through these individuals resulting in policy and systems changes. Without these important junctures, neither aspect of the project would have been as successful as it has been.

The Role of Project Staff

Alaska CEG project staff bear primary local responsibility for coordinating outreach, discovery, job search, and negotiation of employment conditions for project customers. They coordinate with Vocational Rehabilitation, other Workforce Investment Act and One-Stop services, and community providers, and they also work directly with customers.

As the key juncture between policy and practice, these individuals have been important to the local Redesign and Sustainability teams. CEG staff have helped to define the goals of the committees as well as the systems changes necessary to attain those goals. As such, they have had to occupy the dual roles of service providers and systems navigators.

Customized Employment Provision

A key strength of the Alaska Customized Employment Grant has been the ease with which systemic and policy work has been combined with effective and progressive customized services for individual job seekers. The success of the project's policy work has been due in large part to both the effectiveness of its work with individuals and the degree to which lessons learned from practice have been allowed to influence policy. The project has been particularly adept in its use of the following:

  • Discovery- The practice of discovery, an individually directed and customized assessment and planning process, has been implemented to great effect in Alaska. Discovery has allowed customers to take hold of the reins in their own job searches and resulted in more meaningful and lasting placements than otherwise achieved (click here for more information about discovery). Because it's been so successful, the Vocational Rehabilitation agency will now pay for the practice, and the Department of Public Assistance has adopted a specialized project that applies the discovery process to whole families. The Alaska CEG has even pushed to have groups of customers work with one another to discover their own best career paths. Staff report that individual empowerment resulting from this practice, and the unprecedented degree of respect it conveys to the consumer, are among the most powerful outcomes of the discovery process for consumers.
  • Wraparound Services- In Alaska, multiple service systems work in a coordinated fashion to serve a single individual. Wraparound service models are a direct result of systemic-level integration efforts combined with the efforts of local grant staff. The process of providing wraparound services begins with coordinated planning processes. In Alaska, multiple systems ensure that similar goals appear in the planning documents of the education system (IEPs), Vocational Rehabilitation, and the One-Stops. From there, with official planning documents that share similar goals, the systems are able to provide coordinated services and commit shared funding to a single individual. This process in Alaska requires strong coordinating efforts from grant staff.
  • Individual Job Searches- In collaboration with community service providers (see below), the grant has contributed significantly toward individual job search and negotiation services. For individuals with significant barriers, the standard processes of job orders and application assistance provided by One-Stops are not entirely effective. Individual job searches, on the other hand, allow for a more intensive, customized marketing of a job seeker's skills and a greater degree of care in ensuring that the details of the job are appropriate.

One-Stop Center Redesign Teams

In addition to providing or coordinating direct services, staff have played an essential role on the Center Redesign teams. In each project area, the redesign teams chose managers to assess the architecture of the One-Stop Career Center services. At some centers, major physical alterations to the facilities themselves were contemplated and, in some cases, implemented. At other centers, the methods and chronology of service were analyzed and then optimized to best meet the needs of each partner and its customers (click here for examples).

In Anchorage, the redesign team oversaw the expansion of the center into additional space within the same facility, including the relocation of various customer service staff and a redesign of the layout for customer intake (click here for more information). The team repositioned staff, facilities, and resources to suit customer patterns of movement and center usage rather than simply assigning the new space to a single group or going with the easiest staff re-arrangement.

And, following an examination of customer service in Wasilla, the team reassigned some greeting and frontline staff to identify customers' needs early in the One-Stop process. This initial assessment of needs, known to the project as triage, is of great value in routing customers to the appropriate services and ensuring that individuals in need of extra assistance do not 'slip through the cracks' of self-directed and Core services.

Coordinating with Local Community Providers

In Juneau, the project coordinator has been developing the One-Stop's relationship to small to mid-size community providers to ensure that the customized services they deliver continue to be an integral part of the One-Stop service system. By training and coordinating with these providers, this One-Stop, with funding from Vocational Rehabilitation, will continue to offer customized employment practices through its overall network of resources. Leads and relationships with employers are also shared between the center and community providers (also done in Anchorage under a similar arrangement), and plans are in place to allow employers a single point of contact with the system.

The Juneau model represents an important finding for One-Stops nationwide who struggle to incorporate the work of community groups into their efforts. The community service providers in Juneau contributed the following to the overall system:

  • A business model oriented toward intensive services and an ability to accommodate individuals with significant complexities and barriers.
  • A connection to the One-Stop and its services in tandem with an ability to enter the community on a flexible schedule. While the provider agencies performed their services almost entirely outside the One-Stop, they maintained close contact with the center, frequently visiting to avail themselves of its resources and maintain their connections. By contrast, One-Stop staff are frequently unable to leave their centers and thus are restricted from performing the tasks necessary for community-based customized employment services.
  • A highly flexible service style that allows them to be very responsive to the diverse needs of job seekers and employers.

The success of the model depends on a handful of features that, while not unique, are also not universally present in other systems. For this model to be replicable, the following foundational aspects, or their equivalents, need to be in place:

  • The active presence of Vocational Rehabilitation as a workforce development and One-Stop partner: When the grant expires, much of the money used to fund these efforts will come from Vocational Rehabilitation. Because these community groups are performing the function that Vocational Rehabilitation is accustomed to funding, that change should not be a barrier to continuing service. The important aspect of the present arrangement is the involvement of Vocational Rehabilitation in the One-Stop, and the shared view that VR is an important partner in the One-Stop system. The two agencies are co-located (one of the most compelling reasons why community groups keep coming back to the One-Stop), and VR mingles its services with those of the One-Stop in a fashion that both contributes to the larger mission of the center and remains true to its own mandate of service to individuals with significant disabilities. Again, funding the efforts of a community employment group is part and parcel of every Vocational Rehabilitation agency's role; that it performs this function under the auspices of the One-Stop, and in conjunction with multiple partners, is far less common and demonstrably effective.
  • A welcoming atmosphere for individuals with significant disabilities and the agencies that serve them: One-Stops nationwide point out that they are not inherently designed to provide highly individualized services. Taking into account the services funded with standard Workforce Investment Act dollars, this is typically true. The Juneau One-Stop has nevertheless recognized what it can do to facilitate individualized services. With a strong assessment and internal referral system that accurately and efficiently directs customers to the appropriate service provider(s), it has worked to create a welcoming environment for everyone while still allowing all partners and customers to benefit from the center's Core Services. The Juneau center has not had to take on the burden of highly intensive services through the use of WIA funds alone. Rather, it has crafted its own high-volume, generic service in such a way that other partners can easily contribute their own specialty services to it, with the end result being that all customers feel welcome within the system.
  • Small and highly responsive community service providers: Typically, the community providers were not so much organizations as single individuals acting under the auspices of an agency. This is not to say that agencies must be sole proprietors to interact effectively with One-Stops, but it is likely that very large providers would need to alter some of their habits to work efficiently with the One-Stop system. For example, larger providers could designate a few staff who would work with the One-Stop, allowing for a significant amount of flex time in their schedules.

It is worth noting that none of this grant's accomplishments would have been possible without the center redesign and sustainability working groups' meeting regularly. It was at these meetings, more than anywhere else, that knowledge gained through direct experience in the field was effectively integrated with local and state policy concerns, bridging the gap that often exists between the two.