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Customized Employment Project: Tennessee

Windie Wilson
Assistant Director
Knoxville-Knox County Community Action
Committee, Workforce Connections
2247 West Avenue, PO Box 51650
Knoxville TN 37950
Tennessee project website

- Read the Tennessee Customized Employment Partnership Infobrief -

Executive Summary

A clear intent of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) is to make generic systems of workforce development accessible to job seekers with disabilities. However, these systems are challenged to provide services to persons with disabilities who have high needs for job search and job maintenance support. Therefore, Workforce Connections (a division of the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee or CAC) is proposing to develop a customized employment model to be provided through the Knoxville Area Career Center (LWIA 3). CAC is the designated administrative entity for Local Workforce Investment Area 3, a single county local workforce investment area in the State of Tennessee. Workforce Connections division of CAC provides staff support to the local Workforce Investment Board and WIA staff of the Knoxville Area Career Center. The Career Center is the One Stop system serving LWIA 3. This project will primarily serve LWIA 3 and is prepared to replicate the model at the South Central Career Center (LWIA 10) and provide outreach and training to bordering Career Centers, Five Rivers Regional Career Center (LWIA 2) and LWIA 4 in Cumberland and Roane Counties.

Workforce Connections has worked diligently since its inception to link with the disability community. Vocational Rehabilitation has a full-time counselor assigned to the Career Center, community rehabilitation providers accompany their customers as they access core services, and Center staff have been a part of several disability functions. However the present approach is to refer individuals to the VR counselor; staff do not have the capacity or expertise to make customized employment available to people with significant disabilities.

Workforce Connections is leading the development of a comprehensive partnership to conduct strategic planning and implementation activities that will improve the career advancement of people with disabilities, who are either unemployed or under-employed, through customized employment services of the One-Stop delivery system. This partnership includes the following: UT-TIE, a unit of Tennessee's Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities of the University of Tennessee, with expertise in disability services and business/ rehabilitation partnership development throughout the state of Tennessee; TransCen, Inc., a non-profit organization with national expertise in employment methodology for people with significant disabilities; the Disability Resource Center, (the Knoxville Center for Independent Living), a disability advocacy organization with expertise in Social Security benefits management; and the East Tennessee Technology Access Center, an organization with expertise in the application of assistive technology in training and workplace environments. Significant other collaborators include the state and regional offices of Tennessee's Divisions of Rehabilitation Services, Mental Retardation Services, and Special Education; the Council on Developmental Disabilities; the Arc of Tennessee; and Knox County Public Schools.

The partnership will have two primary purposes: 1. to expand the capacity of the Knoxville Area Career Center to serve people with disabilities, and 2. to provide a demonstration model for statewide replication. National policy implications will also be explored through project activities. A critical feature of the project is that it will address specific statewide concerns for people with significant disabilities, that is, a large waiting list for employment services for this population and low rates of employment success for those served under the current system of disability-specific employment programs. Specifically targeted for this project will be individuals who are on waiting lists for integrated employment services, individuals in secondary special education programs who need post-school employment support and are likely to be added to waiting lists for such services, and individuals who are served in segregated settings who desire integrated employment.

Workforce Connections and the Knoxville Area Career Center serve an investment area that is characterized as an urban county with a population of 366,846 and an estimated seven percent are individuals with disabilities. In this area, people with disabilities are currently being served through programs funded by the state VR and MR agencies. There are people with significant disabilities currently on waiting lists and receiving no employment services. Additionally, there are youth who exit Knox County Schools each year who will await employment services indefinitely. And finally, few, if any, of these individuals have availed themselves of the services of the generic workforce investment system to date. Low levels of participation in such systems is typical throughout both the state and the nation. Obviously, there is much work to be done to meet the intent of the Workforce Investment Act. Workforce Connections, the Knoxville Area Career Center, and their partners and collaborators are ready to address these issues through a carefully sequenced series of planning and implementation activities designed to meet the following objectives:

  1. Research, strategically plan, and design model for ongoing systemic inclusion of people with significant disabilities in One Stop customized services
  2. Outreach and educate media, the public, potential job seekers, families, and providers
  3. Train and Educate Career Center staff, partners, and collaborators
  4. Provide customized employment services to up to 15 people with significant support needs per year through customized employment services delivered through the Knoxville Area Career Center and that feature components of self-determination, person centered services, individually designed job development, integrated employment in direct hire jobs, job support, and benefits management
  5. Blend funding systems by combining resources designed for people with disabilities -VR, MR, etc.- with generic workforce development training funding
  6. Analyze policy and systems to support model and influence change
  7. Develop performance outcome measures and track outcomes of job seekers to evaluate impact
  8. Replicate in one other TN Career Center locations and provide outreach/training to two additional Career Centers
  9. Disseminate on state, regional, and national levels

These objectives will be achieved through a unique collaboration that features a progressive One-Stop center (Workforce Connections and Knoxville Area Career Center); a state-wide university human resource and development provider with broad based employer connections and well established relationships to community rehabilitation providers and funding agencies (UT-TIE); an organization with national expertise in employment methodology for persons with significant disability, and with national channels for dissemination (TransCen); a disability advocacy organization (DRC); experts in training and workplace accommodation (East Tennessee Technology Access Center); and funders of disability employment programs (VR, MR).

To accomplish these performance outcomes, CAC/Workforce Connections requests $600,000 per year to implement and operate this project for a five-year period to begin January 1, 2002 through December 31, 2007. CAC is the fiscal agent for this proposal. Partners have demonstrated their commitments through letters that may be found in Appendix A of the proposal.

At the culmination of the five year planning and implementation project there will be a well-established and researched mechanism that blends the resources of WIA-assisted programs with designated disability employment funding programs so that people with disabilities may achieve their career aspirations.