How Oregon’s Nine Local Workforce Development Boards Are Partnering with State Agencies to Connect Adults in Custody with Jobs

Central Oregon Launch

In 2019, East Cascades Works (ECW), the local workforce development board serving the ten Oregon Counties east of the Cascades Mountain range, introduced a plan to prepare adults in custody (AICs) in the board’s service region to rejoin the workforce upon release. Over the next three years, ECW partnered with the Oregon Employment Department (OED) and the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) to develop and implement the WorkSource Oregon Reentry Program. Launching the program required all three organizations to work together closely to identify and address the safety needs, outfit spaces with secure technology, and ensure adequate IT and WorkSource staffing.

With centers across the state, WorkSource Oregon (WSO) connects jobseekers with employers. However, prior to the launch of the Reentry Program, no such WSO centers existed in Oregon’s correctional facilities, which meant AICs had no access to WSO services. ECW launched the Reentry Program in order to address this gap in service, establishing WSO centers in the two correctional facilities in its region: Deer Ridge and Warner Creek Correctional Facilities. Beginning in 2022, these centers provide AICs with access to services that include career coaching, apprenticeship programs, and opportunities to apply and interview for jobs—leading, in some cases, to securing employment prior to release.

The objective: give AICs the workforce education, transferrable skills, and a network of support they need to successfully reenter the workforce and society. “There is data that shows that one of the factors that will significantly reduce recidivism is ‘rapid attachment’ to meaningful employment,” explained ECW Director Heather Ficht. Rapid attachment to employment can in turn help address a variety of challenges faced by returning citizens, their families and communities, and the workforce system. “We can address the housing issue that way,” she continued. “We can address the workforce crisis that way. And we can reduce the cost of incarceration in this state and reduce recidivism and really maximize peoples’ incomes. It’s a win, win, win.”

Creating a Statewide Network

ECW identified early on in the process of implementing the Reentry Program that AICs are rarely housed in a correctional facility that is located in the same community in which they will be released. In order to maintain the quality and continuity of WorkSource services, the Reentry Program needed to expand from Deer Ridge and Warner Creek to the state’s other ten correctional facilities. DOC Reentry & Release Administrator Amy Bertrand explained, “the ultimate goal is creating a system where no matter what institution people are in…they are getting the same service.” A “warm handoff and soft landing to the supportive networks in their community,” Bertrand noted, is also important.

Consequently, ECW and DOC advocated for a statewide Reentry Program system with WSO centers opening in each correctional facility and where WorkSource case managers serve as consistent points of contact for AICs no matter their location, both before and after they are released.

Such an expansion would not be possible without a statewide network of partners collaborating to address the complex logistics and secure funding for staffing and computer equipment. That’s where Oregon Workforce Partnership (OWP), the association of the state’s nine local workforce development boards, came in. With unanimous support from the boards as well as DOC leadership for all 12 facilities, OWP successfully applied for two Future Ready Oregon Workforce Ready Grants from the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) to take the Reentry Program statewide, standing up service centers in the ten remaining correctional facilities in Oregon.

A 2022 Workforce Ready “Capacity Building” grant for $100,000 enabled OWP to develop the expansion plan in partnership with DOC. The consensus of all nine local workforce development boards has been crucial to this plan because each new WSO center will be administered by that region’s board. In regions where there are no correctional facilities, boards will help ensure that returning citizens stay connected with their case manager and have access to local wraparound supports and services following their release.

That’s not all the Workforce Ready Grants helped OWP to accomplish. “Oregon has set itself apart through this statewide project,” OWP Executive Director Georgia Conrad remarked. She credited receiving the Workforce Ready Grants and the “unanimous consensus” of the boards with enabling OWP to land a $3.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration’s Pathway Home initiative. This federal grant will further cover the costs of implementing secure technology and hiring new case managers.

A $1 million “Innovation in Workforce Programs” Workforce Ready Grant awarded in 2023 enabled OWP and the boards to begin implementing the expansion plan, and helped to cover OWP’s costs associated with staffing, additional training, and delivery of expungement services.

Now, by building on the initial regional model, blending and braiding state and federal funding, and continuing to collaborate with each other and with the DOC and OED, the local workforce development boards are positioned to begin opening the new correctional facility WSO centers this year, creating a network of supports and services for returning citizens, their communities, and their employers.

Written by Laura Eidam with the Higher Education Coordinating Commission. Original Article here.