For Golden Sierra Job Training Agency, an American Job Center, the use of Integrated Resource Teams (IRT) was a key service delivery component in implementing California’s Disability Employment Initiative (DEI) in their area. The IRT, originally a Disability Program Navigator (DPN) Initiative, is a team composed of both public- and private-sector representatives coming together to best meet the employment needs of an individual job seeker with a disability. It involves coordination and leveraging of resources and services as well as blending (putting funding together) and/or braiding (keeping funding separate) of funds.
The creation of an IRT starts with partnership building. Kasia DeMauri (pronounced cash-a), a Business & Employment Specialist with Golden Sierra, led the effort in making those connections. Kasia said her first step was to attend as many meetings as possible with the partner organizations involved with service delivery for her customers. For example, she met one-on-one with the Department of Rehabilitation supervisors in her area to learn not only what the organization did, but HOW they did it. In order to understand how to best work together, Kasia wanted to know what their process looked like. Once she understood the process, the next question was determining how she could best connect her customers to those services. How did she do it? She asked!
Once those relationships were established, when a customer was ready to develop their Individual Employment Plan (IEP), she would invite the Golden Sierra case manager and any other entities serving the customers to the IRT meeting. With the customer being the center of this process (think client-centered approach), they were also encouraged to include anyone with an interest in helping them obtain work. After a while, Kasia said it worked in reverse order where the partner agencies actually contacted her when meetings were held. This was a sign she was making progress!
One of the biggest differences Kasia noticed as a result of using the IRTs was in the coordination of services. With the IRT, the customer was served concurrently vs. sequentially. Everyone was providing their services at the same time instead of referring and waiting. The outcome was that the customer went to work much more quickly, a plus for everyone involved. One of the other benefits she noted was in the leveraging of resources. If, for example, Golden Sierra didn’t have funding to pay for childcare or the last two classes of a four-year degree, she had partners who could.
In addition to reaching out and making those connections, Kasia had the following tips for establishing IRTs:
- Focus on the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) factor when establishing your partnerships. What outcomes does your partner need to achieve? What do you have to offer to joint customers that your partner doesn’t have? How can you make your partner’s job easier? Examples might include the expertise of your staff, availability of job preparedness workshops, resume writing, and the simple fact you’ll alleviate some of work required for those with high caseloads.
- Learn and adapt as much as possible to the partner’s lingo. For example, when Kasia would talk with Department of Rehabilitation, she referred to the customer’s plan as Individual Plan for Employment (IPE), which was their terminology vs. Individual Employment Plan (IEP), which was her organization’s terminology. If needed, make a glossary of key terms and share it with your partner.
- Show your continued value! Even if you don’t have an IRT going, Kasia stated it was important to continue reaching out to your partners. Offering to be a guest speaker, coming to meetings, and attending events are all ways you can stay engaged. After you’ve worked hard to establish these relationships, Kasia said you definitely don’t want them to forget about you!
- Explore your partner’s mindset around work. Depending on the perspective of the agency or the mindset of the individual partner you’re working with, Kasia said that work and the value of work may be viewed differently. For example, a positive outcome for you may mean full-time employment. For your partner, it may mean something entirely different. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The answers and working toward common ground can only help support a positive outcome for your customers.
While the first round of funding for the DEI grant has come to a close for her organization, Kasia is happy to report that the IRTs have continued and are now a regular part of how they conduct business at Golden Sierra!