Arkansas Department of Workforce Services Dislocated Worker Technical Assistance Project
Introduction and Project Objectives
In the summer of 2017, the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services (ADWS) engaged Maher & Maher to support a technical assistance project related to dislocated workers. The project was designed to identify promising strategies for dislocated worker identification, outreach and engagement, and service delivery under the state’s U.S. Department of Labor-Employment and Training Administration-funded Sector Partnership National Emergency Grant (NEG) and in the state’s formula-funded dislocated worker efforts more broadly. This need arose in large part from the difficulty Arkansas Sector Partnership NEG stakeholders encountered in identifying and engaging large numbers of eligible dislocated workers, a difficulty due primarily to the state’s low unemployment, and one common among most Sector Partnership NEG grantees, according to peer research conducted by ADWS.
Specific project objectives were to:
- Conduct research into best practices for understanding dislocated workers and their needs, identifying potentially-eligible dislocated workers and communicating with them about available assistance, and engaging them in comprehensive service delivery;
- Engage a group of workforce development and partner staff in Arkansas to identify and prioritize challenges and opportunities in dislocated worker identification, outreach, and service delivery;
- Identify and test specific strategies for enhancing dislocated worker identification, communications, and service delivery;
- Make recommendations for the state’s continued efforts to identify, engage, and serve dislocated workers; and
- Develop and deliver virtual training on project research, identified best practices, and recommendations for interested workforce partners statewide.
At the outset of the project, ADWS and Maher & Maher decided to adopt customer-centered design (CCD) as the framework for the project. CCD is a collaborative process that puts customers – in this case, dislocated workers – at the center of efforts to brainstorm, test, and refine potential solutions to identified needs or challenges. The CCD process consists of research, synthesis of research, ideation (brainstorming), prototyping (building out and refining ideas), and testing ideas, as depicted in the graphic below.
To support this process, a Customer-Centered Design Team was assembled. The Design Team was made up of representatives from a variety of partners involved in dislocated worker efforts, including both state and local staff from various partner systems and areas of the state. The Design Team met virtually and in-person over the course of several months (October 2017-February 2018) to develop, refine, and test solutions related to dislocated worker identification and service delivery, focused in the following areas:
- Dislocated Worker Identification and Outreach/Communications; and
- Information-Sharing and Service Delivery Coordination among Partners.
Key Project Activities
Maher & Maher supported the project in the following key areas:
- Ongoing coaching and virtual meeting facilitation support for ADWS project staff and the Dislocated Worker Customer-Centered Design Team;
- Facilitation of an in-person dislocated worker CCD training and planning meeting;
- Development of a research brief on best practices in dislocated worker identification, outreach and communications, and service delivery;
- Review of and feedback on existing dislocated worker outreach and communications materials and websites;
- Development and delivery of a virtual training webinar on identified best practices;
- A virtual presentation on the project and dislocated worker best practices for a meeting of Arkansas Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act partners; and
- Development of a final report summarizing project activities, findings, and recommendations.
Over the long term, the goal for Arkansas’s dislocated worker technical assistance project was to identify challenges and opportunities as well as best practices in dislocated worker identification, outreach and engagement, and service delivery that would raise the number of, and outcomes for, dislocated workers engaged in the state’s Sector Partnership NEG grant and in its formula-funded dislocated worker programs more broadly. In that regard, the project successfully achieved a number of important outcomes:
- Through the Design Team, the project started an important conversation among a diverse group of stakeholders involved in dislocated worker programming.
- The project focused on identifying collaborative, multi-partner approaches to dislocated worker engagement and service delivery.
- The project introduced customer-centered design as a valuable tool for assessing and improving service delivery for dislocated workers and other workforce system customers.
- Members of Customer-Centered Design Team identified and began working on specific strategies and activities to enhance dislocated worker identification, communications and engagement, and service delivery.
Gretchen Sullivan, Project Manager, Maher & Maher: firstname.lastname@example.org.