In 2014 the US Congress reauthorized the Rehabilitation Act via the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). WIOA is the first legislative reform of the public workforce system in more than 15 years. It strengthens and improves our nation’s public workforce system and increases economic opportunities for individuals in the United States, especially youth and individuals with significant barriers to employment. In addition to increasing services to youth with disabilities, WIOA intends to support employer engagement, emphasize competitive integrated employment, enhance accountability, and promote collaboration between human services, education, and labor efforts. In short, WIOA heralded the most significant changes in VR structure and practice in a generation.
The biggest impact of the WIOA legislation is the new requirement that VR agencies across the country devote 15% of VR 110 federal grant funding to provide Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) for students still in high school, starting services as early as the freshman year. The goal of Pre-Employment Transition is to engage students with disabilities earlier to improve their long-term employment and post-secondary educational outcomes. DVR has embraced Congressional intent and has moved quickly and effectively to implement Pre-Employment Transition Services statewide to serve all of Vermont’s supervisory unions.
The implementation of the Pre-Employment Transition Services mandate has had a major impact on the DVR caseload. In FFY 2015, our 14 transition counselors worked primarily with youth exiting school as they entered the workforce. In FFY 2016, those 14 counselors worked almost exclusively with youth still in school, for whom an employment outcome is yet in the future. A comparison that illustrates this clearly is that in FFY 2012, less than 3% of the consumers who signed an Individualized Plan for Employment with us were under the age of 18. In FFY 2016, that figure grew to nearly 15% of new plans signed (see chart, left). Furthermore, the median age of individuals with an IPE went from 35 in FFY 2012 to 30 in FFY 2016.
WIOA also has changed the way VR programs will be measured and evaluated by the federal government. The new measures are as follows:
New WIOA Measures
1.Employment rate two quarters post program exit
2.Employment rate four quarters post program exit
3.Median earnings at two quarters post program exit
5.Measurable skills gains
For more detail about the new WIOA measures, please see the Technical assistance circular
DVR has two years to put systems in place to collect the required data and establish baselines. After that, DVR will be required to negotiate targets for each measure with the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration. We believe the measures will support and encourage VR programs to focus on longer term outcomes for our consumers and help them build career pathways to higher wage employment. DVR is already looking at current practice and resource allocation through this lens.
Major changes take time to work through; new services and service populations take time to develop. We are very proud that, during a time of such profound change and reorientation due to the WIOA legislation, our consumer satisfaction ratings went up, the rehab rate rebounded, and the average number of rehabs per counselor (excluding transition counselors) remained steady.