Monday, August 24, 2009

MNTAT: Tackling Minnesota's T&TA Needs

Back in November of 2007, the Minnesota Employment First Coalition convened the first of its annual summits with more than 120 invited stakeholders inside our state. The first summit was a new beginning and important revitalization of a lost focus among Minnesota’s employment first champions. In my view, this energy slowly evaporated after the sunset of the Minnesota Supported Employment Project (MNSEP), a five-year, state systems change grant that concluded its run in the late 1980s. Approximately 20 years later, attendees of the employment first summit vowed to recommit their time and energy to pursue the original dream—to open and widen opportunities in the workforce for anyone who would like to work including adults with significant disabilities.

The summit in 2007 resulted in the writing of a consensus report also known as the Minnesota Employment First Manifesto. Our Coalition referred to this document as its Employment First "Manifesto” because the consensus report was a public declaration of our shared principles and intent to act on them. The Employment First Manifesto articulated a blueprint for the future and detailed eight specific recommendations to move Minnesota in the direction of an employment first vision.

Since 2007, the Minnesota Employment First Coalition has been working actively with state and county agencies, business leaders, educators, self-advocates, employment service providers, and other community groups to pursue tangible systems changes based on these recommendations flowing from the original summit. A progress report concerning Minnesota’s employment first performance was issued following the second employment summit held in December of 2008. The second Minnesota Employment First Summit Consensus Report, also known as “The Scorecard,” measures specific progress made within our state with respect to core recommendations voiced by attendees during Summit I. Minnesota's Scorecard can be downloaded for review at this link.

In January of this year, the State of Minnesota took an important step to correct a critical systems weakness cited by attendees at the original summit. There was a unanimous concern about Minnesota's need to develop a training and technical assistance (T&TA) entity to support the leadership, management, and direct service staff of secondary and post-secondary education programs as well as disability, business, and employment provider communities. It was strongly recommended this publically funded T&TA resource be grounded in employment first principles and promote evidence-based, researched practices that will lead to successful employment outcomes in Minnesota's workforce.

The State of Minnesota’s Medicaid Infrastructure Grant (MIG) called Pathways to Employment (PTE) issued a request for proposals (RFP) to create such a center and support the varied T&TA needs of organizations, businesses, and practitioners in our state. Following a competitive grant review process, PTE awarded a state contract to Griffin-Hammis Associates, LLC, a nationally recognized consultancy firm with a strong reputation in the areas of customized employment, job creation and job site training, employer development, Social Security benefit analysis and work incentives, self-employment, management leadership, mentoring, and social entrepreneurship. Griffin-Hammis Associates had worked closely with Minnesota APSE’s leadership to craft a proposal responsive to the state’s T&TA service needs as articulated in the Employment First Manifesto.

In April of 2009, the Minnesota Employment Training and Technical Assistance Center (MNTAT) was officially launched and Griffin-Hammis hired my colleague Bob Niemiec as its Director. Bob is an excellent choice to lead MNTAT. He has more than 25 years of professional experience in the field of disability and employment and has served a senior manager, direct service professional, consultant, trainer, mentor, and adviser. Bob is a former President of National APSE as well as Minnesota APSE and a founding member of the Minnesota Employment First Coalition. In sum, Bob is an employment activist uniquely qualified to direct MNTAT and provide the kind of leadership we need to advance emerging service practices in Minnesota.

By its design, MNTAT is a cross-disability initiative with a wide geographic reach that includes urban, suburban, and rural locations of Minnesota. The Center will use a variety of formats and media to respond to T&TA requests throughout the state. This includes the use of web-based training (webinars and webcasts); local and regional training events in collaboration with Minnesota APSE, and co-hosting an annual statewide disability employment conference with MEPI, the Minnesota Employment Policy Initiative, a newly funded project managed by Minnesota APSE.
MNTAT will work closely and collaboratively with MEPI to insure an alignment of planned T&TA activities with policy listening sessions to be conducted with constituencies throughout Minnesota. The leadership and staff of MNTAT and MEPI are meeting regularly to share expertise, integrate project objectives, build cooperation, and foster synergy between the two newly funded projects.

In addition, MNTAT’s workplan will feature the development and support of five local Community Action Teams (CATs). The CATs will feature interagency, collaborative approaches to addressing the employment and workforce development needs of job seekers with disabilities within local or regional communities. The CATs will be supported by MNTAT with T&TA and will work to achieve measurable customized employment outcomes and systems change objectives in their respective communities. Finally, the CATS will serve as employment demonstration sites where employment first principles and customized employment practices are showcased, documented, shared, and replicated to expand opportunities throughout Minnesota.

MNTAT recently created a new website that will serve as its public portal to T&TA information, a calendar of scheduled events and activities, employment success stories, and a virtual library of resources accessible to the Center’s varied customers. To learn more about MNTAT and its project objectives, you can visit the Center's website here...MNTAT

This past year, an Employment Leadership Innovations Institute comprised of state and community leaders crafted a value proposition for Minnesota. The value proposition says this—‘We need everyone in the workforce for businesses to thrive and communities to prosper.” The creation of MNTAT is another critical step in transforming Minnesota’s workforce development system so all of its citizens will have opportunities to contribute their talents and skills. The launch of MNTAT will reinforce the idea that all Minnesotans can be economic assets when they play to their strengths. To this end, MNTAT will support educators, business leaders, self-advocates, family members, employment providers, county case managers, vocational rehabilitation counselors, and others with the critical T&TA they need to encourage and produce high quality employment outcomes in the workforce…one person at a time.

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