Fixing to Change: A Best Practices Assessment of One-Stop Job Centers Working With Welfare Recipients. Whatcom County WorkNet Consortium, Bellingham, Washington


Whatcom County is located in the northwest corner of Washington State. Canada boarders to the north, the Cascade mountain range rises to the east and the Pacific Ocean lies to the west. Seattle is 100 miles to the south. Bellingham (population 55,000) is the urban center of the county and has strong historical ties to the major Pacific Northwest industries of timber, fishing, and trade. As evidence of the area's ties to natural resources, two thirds of the county is located within the North Cascades National Park.

  • State Workforce System: The attention of policymakers to the state's workforce system started in the early 1990s with a major study of human capital development. Study recommendations led to the creation of the Workforce Development Board in 1992, with broad representation of state agencies and community interests. The Board has responsibility for policy oversight and evaluation of the state's workforce system, including school-to-work, community and technical colleges, and employment services provided by several state and local agencies, yet the Board has no significant control over individual agency budgets and policy and program decisions. Although local boards were envisioned in the original legislation, they have yet to be created. Movement toward an integrated career center system began in 1994, with the creation of a One-Stop Career Center System Management Team composed of cabinet-level state officials and senior representatives from business, labor, and community groups. The 1995 vision of this group called for integrating employment and training services to make them easier to use, and consolidating programs were coordination and efficiencies can result.

    Some local areas in western Washington, such as Whatcom County, began developing their own versions of One-Stop centers as early as 1992, while others are just now establishing their own unique local designs.

  • Welfare Reform: Washington State experimented with two different welfare reform efforts prior to enactment of its current WorkFirst program in 1997. At the time of our site visit, the welfare program in place was operating under a set of waivers from the federal TANF law. Welfare recipients with children over age 3 were required to enroll in the JOBS program (administered by the state's Employment Security Department), although the definition of work under this program was inclusive of a variety of education and training activities. Beginning in 1995, cash benefits for recipients were reduced after 48 months. It is unclear how many recipients were sanctioned during the relatively short period that this program was in place, and there is some sense that follow-up for no-shows was lax. Generally, this program was focused more heavily on supporting welfare recipients while they completed education and training prior to searching for employment that would provide self-sufficiency.

    By contrast, the WorkFirst program places heavy emphasis on job search immediately after application for cash assistance and prior to assessment for job skills and employability, representing a significant shift from "education and training first" "to "work first." Only parents with children under 12 months and caretakers are generally exempt from work requirements. Participants are expected to accept the first available job. Increased funding is made available for child care, although reimbursement rates have been reduced and sliding fee schedule co-payments instituted.

  • Local economy: The natural resource industries of timber and fishing had long served this area as base industries, but declines in these industries have meant the loss of many high wage, often seasonal jobs. A boom in retail trade during the early 1990s was fed largely by a strong influx of Canadian shoppers and the growth of a large retail mall on the outskirts of Bellingham. However, an increasingly stronger American dollar relative to the Canadian dollar has severely depleted this stimulus to the local economy. As a result, the unemployment rate in Whatcom County at the time of our site visit was just under 6 percent, despite much lower state and national unemployment rates.
  • Location and Physical Space: The Center for Workforce Training provides the focus for the WorkNet Consortium. The Center is located in downtown Bellingham, adjacent to the Northwest Private Industry Council offices and across the street from state Employment Security Department offices. The Center houses a computer lab, classrooms, conference room, career development and job search center, and staff offices. In addition to the Center, designated locations provide information on all available services, any eligibility requirements, and where and how to access services. Designated sites include: job service centers (Employment Security Department), PIC offices, community and technical colleges, community service offices (Department of Social and Health Services), and career development centers.
  • General Concept: The WorkNet Consortium is designed as a "first stop," or "no wrong door" system that depends more on collaboration of partners than on collocation of services. For example, all partner agencies can refer clients to a common three-day orientation class which is held weekly and covers self-assessment, career exploration, communication and job search skills, labor market information, resume writing, and interviewing skills. The class is taught by Employment Security and/or PIC staff, and when the client completes the class he/she returns to the referring agency, which acts as case manager. Interagency work teams are the primary mechanism used in the development of an integrated service delivery system, led by a design team which meets every four to six weeks to identify tasks. Mid-managers and line staff form subgroups that have the responsibility to set up the structure to achieve these tasks. A common set of Workforce Skill Standards are used to facilitate service planning and communication among the partner agencies and to set performance goals.
  • JOBS Program: At the time of our site visit, the JOBS Program was administered by the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). Local DSHS social workers arranged counseling and support services, and referred clients to Employment Security Department employment specialists to provide employment and training services, arranged training at educational institutions, and helped co-enroll and/or transition participants into other programs that offer complementary employment and training services, such as JTPA. JOBS components included assessment, basic education, high school and GED completion, ESL instruction, job readiness activities, work experience, postsecondary vocational training, and job search/placement. Child care, medical, and dental services were available for as long as one year after a recipient was employed and no longer receiving an AFDC grant.
  • Partners: The primary partners in the WorkNet Consortium are:
    • Bellingham Technical College
    • Employment Security Department, Bellingham Job Service Center
    • Department of Social and Human Services, Bellingham Community Services Division
    • Northwest Private Industry Council

    The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which is part of the Department of Social and Health Services, is also included in this partnership.

  • Services: The services made available through WorkNet include:
    • First-stop services:  program information and eligibility, initial assessment, and referral
    • In-depth assessment
    • Career planning
    • Employability plan
    • Case management
    • Workforce preparation
    • Employer linkages
    • Work-based job training
    • Job match and job search services
    • Basic academic skills
    • Classroom training
    • Support services (child care, transportation subsidy, job readiness, counseling, needs-based payments, and follow-up assistance)
  • Programs: The following programs are available through the WorkNet Consortium:
    • JTPA Titles IIA, IIB, IIC, Older Workers and EDWAA Title III
    • JTPA 8 percent Education Coordination Grant
    • JOBS
    • Community and technical college financial aid programs, including state training assistance and Pell Grants, and occupational training program prerequisites assessment information
    • Dislocated Workers
    • Trade Adjustment Assistance
    • Claimant Placement Program
    • Commissioner Approved Training and Timber Retraining Benefits
    • Workforce Training Trust Fund Services
    • Wagner-Peyser functions
    • Adult Basic Education
    • ESL and GED training through community and technical colleges
  • Data Systems and Fiscal Planning: WorkNet Consortium partner agencies have access to a first generation version of the Data Systems International computer system for client intake, referral, and case management. However, none of these agencies have been granted (state) legal authority to share this data across agency lines, making it necessary for agencies to maintain parallel data sets. Additional data resources include Internet access to America's Jobs, standard occupational and industrial labor market and labor exchange data (from the Employment Security Department), and community resource information. The Center for Workforce Training is co-funded and co-managed by the four partner agencies.



38.  Northwest Policy Center, One-Stop Career Centers.....

39.  Social Policy Research Associates, "State of Wisconsin One-Stop Profile," Menlo Park, CA, March 1996.

40.  Thomas Kaplan, "Evaluating comprehensive state welfare reforms: An overview." Focus, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Vol. 18, No. 3, Spring 1997.

41.  Kenosha County Job Center, "Expect Success," Kenosha WI.

42.  The County Judge is the chief administrative officer for Tarrant County; four Commissioners are elected from districts.