Working together is nothing new for staff at Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas (WFS Dallas) and the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS). They began collaborating more than a decade ago, with DARS staff visiting workforce centers and participating in Workforce Disability Awareness training, as well as providing assistive technology training and technical assistance.
With the upcoming transition of certain DARS programs to TWC, employees vocational rehabilitation specialists will begin co-locating at workforce centers across the state over the next few years. At WFS Dallas, that transition will come later, but the path toward strong collaboration has already been established as some combined staffers who have been working side-by-side already, are learning they can benefit from each other’s expertise.
When the collaboration began, workforce staff arranged space in centers for DARS staff meetings and Job Club, held WorkInTexas.com workshops and provided information on workforce services, hiring events, job leads, seminars and orientations.
Workforce staff has built on that foundation with employer education workshops and hiring events for job seekers with disabilities. These events create awareness about workplace accessibility, universal design and assistive technology.
Workforce staff makes weekly visits to the DARS Division for Rehabilitation Services (DRS) Irving Field Office to work one-on-one with vocational rehabilitation consumers.
“This relationship has resulted in an increased number of placements for DRS consumers as our representative assists them directly with placement through WorkInTexas.com,” says Brenda Russell, Irving area manager.
In May 2015, WFS Dallas created a Disability Services Pilot Program, hiring six talent development specialists to provide job-seeking services specifically for people with disabilities, such as résumé writing assistance, networking, interview preparation, referrals and accommodations.
DARS area managers quickly embraced the pilot and invited the talent development specialists to co-locate within eight DARS offices to streamline delivery of employment related services and support.
“We worked together to develop employment strategies and resources to help people with disabilities become employed,” says Gena Swett, Rehabilitation Services program Specialist. “The talent development specialist traveling to each DARS field offices has been very successful with helping people with disabilities obtain employment.”
The pilot program has placed more than 140 job seekers with a wide variety of disabilities in competitive, integrated jobs. The DARS/WFS Dallas co-locations showcases teamwork and lays the groundwork for the full integration of co-located services that will happen over the next few years.
“The pilot did everything we hoped. DARS staff and workforce center staff are working on the same outcome,” says Laurie Bouillion Larrea, WFS Dallas President. “Now we work seamlessly and the employer sees more robust and diverse talent. This is working!”
Undrae Knox, a Rehabilitation Services manager at the co-located office, says the co-location has paid dividends because it allows convenient face-to-face contact with, and real-time feedback from, WFS specialists. Knox has some simple advice to other co-locating staff.
“The co-location is a resource and when helping our consumers, we can never have too many resources, especially when they are in-house,” Knox says.