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Anoka County Transition and Customized Employment:
Partnership and Collaborative Efforts
Grant number, name, and location: Anoka County Transition and Customized Employment (TCE), Anoka County MN, #E-9-4-1-0076
Grant recipient: The Anoka County Workforce Council (Workforce Investment Board for Anoka County)
Project lead: Anoka County Job Training Center
Subcontractors: Anoka County Workforce Center, seven local school districts serving Anoka County, Anoka County Social Services, PACER Center, University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration, and Rise Inc.
- Partnerships for this project built on preexisting collaborative relationships, although jointly supporting this target population was a new endeavor.
- Project goals were shared so the reported outcome performance was the sum of all interagency parts.
- The project had active engagements with employers that led to mentoring, work experience, apprenticeship, Customized Employment opportunities, and consultation.
- The team held regular management meetings to monitor budget, performance, policy, and quality improvement.
- Partnerships were recognized through a combination of informal and formal agreements.
- TCE partners continued to collaborate under the umbrella of existing transition structures. The most crucial components of project were absorbed by existing education and adult services.
The Anoka County Transition and Customized Employment (TCE) project was an interagency partnership between the Anoka County Workforce Center's core agencies, seven local school districts serving the county, Anoka County Social Services, PACER Center, University of Minnesota's Institute on Community Integration, and Rise Incorporated. The partnerships among these state, county, and local organizations were defined in state interagency agreements, workforce partnership agreements, memoranda of understanding, and formal agency contract agreements. The TCE partnership was formed to enhance existing agreements and establish a framework to support the goal of improving transition services and developing Customized Employment outcomes for young adults with significant disabilities in the area. All activities of the project were "customized" based on the goals and service plans identified in each student's Individualized Education Program (IEP).
As the transition support needs of youth with disabilities are complex and diverse, recruiting subcontractors was considered essential to the success of the project. This partnership was chosen to coordinate the proper blend of expertise, budget resources, and division of labor. The Anoka County Workforce Council (Workforce Investment Board for Anoka County) provided guidance, policy direction, oversight, and evaluation of the county Workforce Center's programs and services. Rise Incorporated (community rehabilitation and employment provider) planned and provided Customized Employment services for students with significant disabilities based on person-centered discovery assessments and career plans. University of Minnesota's National Center on Secondary Education and Transition provided customized performance outcome measurement, gathered stakeholder feedback, promoted continuous self-improvement, and assisted with product development and national dissemination. Parents Advocacy Center for Educational Resources (PACER) provided parent education, student advocacy, and policy development to promote adult transition.
In addition to the expertise of the subcontractors, the TCE project enjoyed outstanding partnerships with employers. Rise maintained an excellent partnership with the Employers Association of Minnesota, an active participant in the Project with Industry program. TCE also maintained an active involvement with the Minnesota Business Leadership Network. Local employers were instrumental in mentoring students in the project and providing work experience, apprenticeships, and Customized Employment opportunities. TCE also relied on employers to assist with consultation on marketing and technical support.
Although the TCE partners had longstanding relationships with each other, they had not specifically addressed Customized Employment for transition-age youth and young adults with significant disabilities until this effort. The project was viewed as a progression of existing relationships with a focus on improving the delivery of services to a defined youth population (click here for more information). The TCE partnership was formed at the management level but involved the Workforce Investment Board and other appropriate advisory bodies serving this community (e.g., Community Transition Interagency Committee).
Since TCE's project goals were shared, reported outcome performance was the sum of all interagency parts. TCE worked hard to integrate expertise and resources from education as well as complex adult service systems to improve outcomes for all youth with disabilities, including those with significant disabilities.
Focus on Key Partnerships
The key TCE partnership with the One-Stop focused on the need to integrate and resources to better serve youth with disabilities. The partnership also helped introduce the workforce center and its resources to students with disabilities and their families. TCE partners worked collaboratively to meet systems change objectives and develop multiple pathways to Customized Employment in the workforce. A key and underlying factor in obtaining this objective was to reorganize the One-Stop service delivery system, thus increasing access to services and opportunities to create better transition outcomes. An effective One-Stop system for people with disabilities under WIA required more aggressive action and entailed the following steps:
- Developing a common vision and shared principles among public and private adult service agencies, employers, people with disabilities, advocacy agencies, and family members
- Launching an inclusive service policy that offered outreach to all people with disabilities to increase access to essential employability and related services
- Establishing an unmistakable, written priority to increase the community job placement and reduce the unnecessary segregation of people with significant disabilities
- Developing measurable, shared outcome objectives with mutually agreed-upon performance indicators
- Mapping multiple pathways to job placement outcome success for specific disability populations to identify agency service eligibility and roles and to mobilize essential resources to support each student
- Training professionals from adult service agencies about best practices in school-to-career transition and Customized Employment
- Marshaling all available resources across collaborating entities
- Establishing cross-agency service teams with mutually defined transition and Customized Employment performance objectives
- Formally introducing and defining Customized Employment as an established service program of the One-Stop system under WIA
Broader systems-level policies were discussed and managed by a consensus of TCE's centralized management committee overseeing the project. Local policy and implementation issues were managed by teams of professionals who were working at that level.
The project held quarterly management and budget meetings to review and monitor the performance of TCE (click here for more information). An interagency management committee met regularly to review policy issues, monitors project performance, and examine how multi-agency collaboration could improve transition and Customized Employment outcomes for youth with significant disabilities.
Informal agreements existed at the staff level to better serve individual school districts based on local needs, resource availability, staff expertise, etc. There were formal agreements about working together to deliver essential transition and Customized Employment services. These agreements specifically addressed funding and performance outcomes. However, agreements about other resources, such as the availability of itinerant space at high schools as well as the One-Stop, were informal.
Over the five-year grant cycle, the project faced many obstacles in the system. They included the introduction of a waiting list at VR (a core partner in TCE) due to changes in order of selection standards. The management team worked to redistribute resources and hire project staff to keep case management services fluid. (VR eliminated the waiting list in the last year.) Other challenges included project management changes, deep budget reductions in state funding for WIA youth programs, and the need for training in Customized Employment strategies.
TCE examined new ways to serve youth with disabilities and continue the project efforts after the grant was completed. They engaged Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services, a medical assistance rehabilitation option, to support some students with mental health disabilities. Rise became a Ticket to Work Employment Network to assist eligible students with disabilities. An AmeriCorps project was secured to provide nontraditional support to some students seeking community-based employment outcomes (click here for more information). (The Ticket and AmeriCorps projects are explained in more detail in the "leveraging resources" section). Finally, VR hired several new job placement specialists to assist job seekers with disabilities in the area. Overall, the collaboration led to the development of new services with shared goals and resources to support young adults with disabilities in transition. The blending of fiscal and program resources ensured that TCE's partners would continue to collaborate beyond the grant cycle.