Friday, June 18, 2010

State Spotlight: Alaska

The State of Alaska Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education is undertaking a number of promising and innovative initiatives to increase the employment of people with disabilities throughout the state, including a customized entrepreneurship project, START-Up/Alaska (part of the START-Up/USA Initiative). Governor’s Council Executive Director Millie Ryan has over 20 years of experience in disability employment and has previously worked in the vocational rehabilitation field for the state and for multiple nonprofits that provide residential and vocational services to people with disabilities. She spoke with the NTAR Leadership Center about Alaska’s experiences.

  • Listen to the podcast with Millie Ryan, Executive Director, Alaska Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education
  • Read a transcript of the podcast
  • Follow the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education on Twitter
  • Read more about START-Up/Alaska

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Consider the Possibilities of Social Media

This is a guest post from Robb C. Sewell-Wolff, Senior Writer/Editor, John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, Rutgers University

A few months ago, my colleague Savannah Barnett talked about some of the myths surrounding social media and highlighted the value and benefits of social media tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Hopefully, you’ve taken her words to heart and have braved this new frontier, perhaps poked your toes into what might have been uncharted waters, or maybe even immersed yourself completely in the revolution that is social media.

But what can you use social media to accomplish? In the first part of a two-part blog, I’m going to touch upon five things that you can use social media to do. Then, next week, I’ll follow up with a second blog that looks at a nonprofit organization that is doing amazing things with social media.

So…what can you do with social media?

1. You can start conversations.

Social media isn’t only about you spouting your ideas, thoughts, or opinions. In fact, social media works best when it creates a dialogue between people. It not only allows you the chance to be heard, but gives others the opportunity to let their voices be heard as well. It gives everyone the chance to contribute their opinions and knowledge to a discourse.

2. You can change conversations.

My friends on Facebook will often apologize for “hijacking” a thread I created — that is, taking the conversation off subject into different directions. But that is the beauty of social media. You can be talking about health care reform one minute, and then a dozen exchanges later, the subject has morphed into a discussion about the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Don’t get frustrated if your discussion goes off tangent. Accept it and let the conversations flow naturally. The results may be unexpected and quite rewarding.

3. You can network with others.

Social media allows you the chance to interact with individuals you might never typically encounter. I’m living proof of that fact. Aside from my career at the Heldrich Center, I’m a fiction writer. And I’ve used social media to network with others in publishing. Through social media, I became friends with a novelist and television writer who connected me with her literary agent. A friend on Facebook put me in contact with his brother who just so happens to be the founder of a theatre group in New York City. And now the theatre is willing to read a sample from my play. Frankly, these are networking opportunities I likely would have never made had it not been for social media.

4. You can create communities.

There are all kinds of communities online — for cancer patients and survivors, playwrights, parents of children with autism, and pet owners, to name but a few. These communities enable people to band together to support each other, exchange resources, and share triumphs and struggles. Thanks to web-based programs like Ning, which is available for a fee, anyone can create an online community that will bring together people who might never have the chance to interact and learn from each other.

5. You can make things happen.

Social media allows you another forum to make your goals become a reality. Again, let me share from my personal life. I’m a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with melanoma in 2003. Last year, I got involved in the LIVESTRONG Challenge in Philadelphia, an event designed to raise money for cancer. With just six weeks to raise money for a 10-mile bike ride, I turned to Facebook and Twitter to seek financial support from friends, colleagues, and family. My fundraising goal was $250 but thanks to the generous support of many people, I was able to raise over $1,500…and that in the midst of a crippling recession. I wasn’t the only one to use social media to raise funds. Many LIVESTRONG participants did so. The result? Over $3.2 million was raised to fight cancer.

As I conclude, let me challenge you to take some time to think about how social media might benefit your organization. Could you use social media to create a virtual community for your constituents? Think about your funding sources. Are they online? How can you interact with them virtually and, perhaps, build the foundation for future funding? What are you trying to achieve? How can social media help to make your aspirations become reality?

Consider the possibilities and start putting social media to work for you and your organization. The power is in your hands. Are you going to use it?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Partner Spotlight: Eric Seleznow

Eric Seleznow, co-team leader of the NTAR Leadership Center’s State Leaders Innovation Institute’s Maryland team, has served as the Executive Director of Maryland’s Governor’s Workforce Investment Board since 2007. Throughout Eric’s extensive career in workforce development he has overseen the Montgomery County Maryland workforce development system, whose Workforce Investment Boards and One Stop Career Centers serve more than 10,000 people each year. An expert in corrections policy and workforce reentry initiatives, Eric brings a strong and diverse workforce perspective to his work with the State of Maryland and with the NTAR Leadership Center.

  • Listen to the podcast with Eric Seleznow, Executive Director of Maryland’s Governor’s Workforce Investment Board and co-team leader of the Maryland State Leaders Innovation Institute effort
  • Read a transcript of the podcast

Friday, June 11, 2010

One Size Fits All... with Style

This is a guest post from Sheila Fesko, Senior Research Associate, Institute for Community Inclusion

For workforce development professionals who serve people with the most significant barriers to careers, the idea of ‘one size fits all’ service has gotten a bad name. The phrase suggests the most basic sense of workforce development services; a cookie-cutter approach brought to bear on people who require flexibility, creativity and a personal touch. It suggests saving time at the expense of delivering quality services.

When we think of how to make our One Stop Career Centers more efficient, we can’t help but wonder how it is that providing services more efficiency and to a larger number of people can be a bad thing?

The answer is simple, if unfortunate: we seem to have mistaken the need for high volume as an excuse for low quality.

Personally, I like high-volume solutions. I see no reason why the best strategies should not work for the widest possible range of customers. Particularly when economic conditions create an overwhelming demand for workforce development services, and when businesses, similarly, are called upon to operate with the greatest possible efficiency to meet the needs of the shareholders and customers, we have a responsibility to sponsor practices that truly meet the needs of the widest possible range of service-seekers. Perhaps we can call these services ‘One Size Fits All… with Style’.

High quality high volume service invariably means interagency collaboration that allows easy access to all partner services for career-seekers and businesses. It means customer-service mindset in the simplest elements of a One Stop; i.e. signs and marketing materials that reference services that customers will understand, rather than bureaucratic agency titles and regulatory authorities. Finally, it means taking the time – in staff training, service design, and customer welcoming – to ensure we can deliver services quickly, but successfully.

Consider the example of the WorkSource One Stop Career Center in the Tri-Cities area of Washington State. More than most, this One Stop took very seriously the idea of seamless, collaborative service delivery. Rather than breaking different agencies in to separate areas of the Center, staff from all partners occupy space adjacent to the customer resource area of the center. When it became clear that using rotating agency schedules to staff the front desk made for sub-standard intake and orientation delivered by staff who would rather have been focusing on their ‘real’ jobs, the partners pooled their resources and hired a dedicated front desk team, whose sole purpose was to guarantee the best possible welcome for every customer who came through the door.

Further, a business services team was formed, again by pooling resources from multiple partners. Staff in this team were assigned sectors – i.e. Health Care, Agriculture, Information Technology, etc. – so that they could learn these industries and their workforce and economic development needs as thoroughly as possible. More than just staff who took job orders from local businesses, these staff become advisers to businesses, central to their growth and direction. With coordination, care and creativity, this One Stop became an engine of economic development.

This example demonstrates the value in:
• collaboration that emphasizes people and services over agency lines,
• a customer service mentality basic to the design and delivery of services, and
• an environment where Workforce Development is an essential aspect of Economic Development.

By orienting ourselves to the strategies that best serve our customers – businesses and career-seekers – we position ourselves to provide the most efficient, effective and impactful services possible. Further, we deliver services that create permanent change for our customers.

What could possibly save more time than that?