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?

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