By Erin Cooper, Administrator of Workforce Services, Nebraska Department of Labor
Dislocated workers, particularly Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) eligible workers, are a distinctive set of job seekers that require a unique approach to re-employment services. Trade affected workers are often highly skilled and well-educated, yet struggle to quickly regain employment similar in skill or pay to their recently lost job. Most often their struggle is due to outdated skills or education or simply the loss of a very high paying job causing an extreme financial burden. Nebraska has recognized their distinctive needs and barriers and, in 2017, established a TAA specific policy requiring co-enrollment of trade affected workers with WIOA’s dislocated worker program. The purpose of this requirement was to ensure these workers’ unique training needs, and supportive services needs, were addressed by both programs as both programs offer varying degrees of assistance; wrap around services to quickly gain family sustaining employment was the goal of the co-enrollment policy.
Despite a TAA specific policy, Nebraska struggles to meet the co-enrollment requirement nearly two years after implementation. In the fall of 2019, the State took a deep dive into the co-enrollment challenge. Through numerous partner meetings, phone calls and emails, the State quickly learned that there were multiple barriers:
- Varying policies regarding co-enrollment,
- Access to shared technology,
- Lack of common data collection practices,
- Lingering myths, and the
- Complexity of co-case managing a participant between service providers.
Addressing one problem at a time, collaboratively and methodically, is the approach Nebraska is taking to improve co-enrollment of trade affected workers with WIOA’s dislocated worker program. Approaches include:
- Updating all WIOA and TAA policies to use similar, if not identical language, regarding co-enrollment,
- Reviewing technology access levels and adjusting as necessary,
- Reviewing data collection practices and implementing one best practice, and
- Identifying trainings to assist with the complexities of co-case management between service providers.
Taking a step backwards, if one applies the Lean Six Sigma practice of “5 Whys” to the initial barriers, the root cause of all those barriers point to a lack of communication. Without communicating that there is confusion regarding policies, or sharing technology barriers with the technology team, or even discussing the complexities of co-case management, co-enrollment becomes impossible because communication has ceased to exist. The old adage rings true: you don’t know, what you don’t know.
Of course the real solution to co-enrollment has yet to be found as communication is just as complex as the barriers listed above. However, by simply recognizing that communication is a barrier, conversations can begin and service providers can start collaborating and working together to best serve these affected job seekers.
Nebraska’s Greater Omaha local area is taking the first big steps towards co-enrollment of trade affected workers with WIOA’s dislocated worker program; communication has been the solution thus far but other barriers will arise and solutions will have to be developed creatively and collaboratively for participant and program success to result.