Peer Professional Development in Arizona: Peer Reviews of Arizona's One-Stop Career Centers Are Helping to Improve Workforce Development Services Statewide

Article excerpt

Arizona's workforce development services professionals recognize the challenge of giving a broad range of communities uniformly good service statewide. Diverse community sizes and associated resources have resulted in an uneven service capacity in the state's cities and towns. Arizona's one-stop career center ("one-stop") and workforce development efforts have maximized the visibility of services in the state's four major metropolitan areas, but the resource-challenged smaller communities have suffered from reduced service access. This article examines how peer visits to a variety of one-stops help improve service across the board.

Workforce Development Purpose

At the one-stops, customers can access a broad range of employment- related and training services at one location. One-stops offer the means to develop the workforce, including the following:

* Proactive measures for continuously anticipating and fulfilling specific community and economic development needs

* Outreach to business leaders to facilitate accurate forecasting of staffing needs and specific requirements for readiness

* Training and skill development mechanisms that serve the needs of employer clients, small and large

* Tracking mechanisms for finding and disseminating job opportunities and making job placements that mutually serve employer clients and job seekers.

Vehicle for Change

The Arizona Association for Economic Development, an active professional association, helped generate a vehicle for change. In May 2003, its workforce subcommittee proposed a statewide workforce development initiative. The proposal involved establishing a peer capacity-building assessment team to review the one-stops' delivery of publicly funded workforce development services at the local level in Arizona.

A core team was chartered to assess factors that affect the perception of one-stop programs and to confront the reality of disparities in funding across local areas. The team would review centers willing to accept its service voluntarily. The visits--unlike compliance-based, monitoring- affiliated sessions--would identify opportunities for improvement without making judgments.

The review would focus on the value to the customer of one-stops, including environmental, sensory, interpersonal, and procedural deliverables, both informational and financial. The review would make observations relative to the disparity of resources between metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas of Arizona and how it affects the ability to provide services, as well as their consistency and delivery. Before the visits, peer reviewers would be trained in the use of the process and instrument (the specific methods to be used), as well as basic information-gathering techniques.

The primary purpose of the initiative was to strengthen the performance capability of each one-stop. An external view of a center can give each location a new perspective on operations from the viewpoint of a knowledgeable consumer. This specific professional input includes feedback on each center's service to employers, service to job seekers, and center management and organization.

Collaborative Design and Implementation

Upon receiving the association's approval and support of the peer professional development program, workforce development services professionals began an intense grass-roots effort, collaborating on planning and organizing. These one-stop leaders (and other professionals in the field) wanted feedback on the practices in effect at the one-stops statewide. They needed insight into the impression services made on likely customers, how easily the services can be accessed and used, and how well they are targeted--information not gathered by compliance checks.

During development, eight different workforce development organizations--representing urban, rural, and tribal communities in Arizona--became involved in the design and refinement of the initiative. …