Modernize Your Vocational Rehab Tech
March 16, 2020 by
Since its inception in 1920, the nation’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program has worked to assist millions of people with physical or mental disabilities train for, obtain, keep, or regain a job. In 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) was signed into law with a bold vision of revitalizing and transforming the public workforce system to reflect the realities of the 21st century. WIOA specifically calls for technology modernization and the use of data-driven processes to break down silos, improve decision-making, reduce administrative costs, and transform citizen service.
Despite leadership, vision, and millions in funding, the WIOA quest for technology modernization has seen little momentum. In 2020, despite the lowest unemployment rate since 1969, people with disabilities are still twice as likely to be unemployed, compared to those without a disability. And while requirements and expectations are accelerating at a feverish pace, the case management systems many VR agencies depend upon for daily operations are still powered by outdated client-server technology, band-aided and dressed up to look like modern web applications.
The Case for Modernization
WIOA has ushered in a new reality characterized by demanding federal oversight, changing policy directives, thousands of data-driven rules, cross-agency collaboration, and new requirements for common performance reporting. To succeed, VR agencies will need technology modernization to achieve the lofty expectations that define WIOA.
VR professionals are often socially driven individuals who are passionate about helping people with disabilities regain fully integrated employment at a modern wage. Hardly described as technology experts, their success in achieving their goals is dependent upon technology they may not understand. Complicating matters, VR agencies are managing an aging workforce, frequent turnover, a dwindling pool of subject matter experts, and legacy solutions that are not keeping pace with evolving requirements.
Old technology is not going to help VR professionals, or the VR leadership meet their WIOA requirements. Modernization is a means to streamline processes, maintain compliance, and deliver the transparent and measurable performance results required by WIOA. A new generation of data-driven case management and performance reporting software is needed now to replace the aging systems that require lengthy and costly upgrades to keep pace with changing WIOA requirements.
WIOA Primary Indicators of Performance
One of the biggest drivers for modernization is the new WIOA common performance reporting requirement. WIOA establishes six primary indicators of performance that are common across the six core programs authorized by WIOA: Title I, Program for Youth; Title I, Program for Adults; Title I, Program for Dislocated Workers; Title II, Adult Education and Family Literacy; Title III, Employment Service; and WIOA Title IV, Vocational Rehabilitation. WIOA requires all states and direct grantees to collect and report information on all the participants regarding:
- Employment 2nd quarter after exit
- Employment 4th quarter after exit
- Median earnings 2nd quarter after exit
- Credential attainment
- Measurable skill gains
- Effectiveness of serving employers
The first three indicators count the participants who are no longer served by VR. The fourth indicator applies to both those currently participating and those who have left during the past year. The fifth indicator applies to participants during their time of service. The sixth indicator describes how well the VR agency is working with local business to promote opportunities for people with disabilities.
This is just one example of the ever-changing regulations and policies that govern VR. The Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) continues to evolve the quarterly 911 Case Services Report and expects VR agencies to upgrade their case management systems to reflect the latest policy directive (PD 19-03) by July 1, 2020. All these factors are pushing agencies to consider modernization and upgrading their current software.
The Benefits of Modernization
A new software implementation is a major undertaking for VR agencies, but there are important benefits to upgrading your aging case management software sooner rather than later. Modern data-driven software platforms simplify processes, leading to efficiency and lower costs. Low-code application development platforms for case management tend to be easier and faster to configure. This is critical as it shortens the time between the publication of new policies and the roll-out of enhancements to administer the policy—so your VR agency stays in compliance while serving your participants.
Low-code application development solutions also offer easier and more stable integrations with other systems, both within your own office and the agencies you collaborate with. A single source of data, capturing all the information about an individual’s case, ensures the participant is getting the right services at the right time, leading to successful long-term employment and a competitive wage.
Streamlined processes, shared data, and policy compliance afford your VR counselors more one-on-one time to work with participants, less paperwork, and better outcomes.
Choosing a Modernization Partner
Of course, not all modernization paths are equal. Things to consider when comparing solution providers for VR Case Management and Performance Reporting include:
Past Success & Stability
Look for a solution provider that has a proven track record, a solid team in place, and a commitment to invest in their product. Newcomers can be innovative, but they may lack the depth of specific VR experience to ensure a successful implementation. Legacy providers can be slow to make changes to limit further investment in their aging technology. Is the Help Desk and Software Support team well-versed in WIOA requirements, RSA policy directives, and the VR process? Inquire about the longevity, experience, and expertise of the leadership in the organization. You will be putting your systems, your data, and your success in their hands, so make sure you have a vendor you can trust.
Does the case management software look like a modern web application? Beyond being easy to use and 508 compliant, is the solution optimized for use by disabled workers?
- Is it configurable to easily handle changes in policy and reporting requirements?
- Does it automate processes like appointment scheduling, and calendaring?
- Does it support service plan management and forms?
- Does the solution offer portals and self-service client access?
- Does it include task lists, wizards, and built-in alerts to save counselors time?
- Are there frequent upgrades to keep up with changing policies and requirements?
- Does it feature fully integrated finance, budgeting, and accounting capability?
Ensure that your vendor’s roadmap is aligned with your future vision. Do they have a focus on modernization? Are they making investments in integrating with new technologies? Emerging innovations like virtual assistants and Artificial Intelligence (AI) may not be in your plan right now, but your modernization partner should be able to speak to these trends and how they might impact your activities moving forward. Your partners should not only help you now, but be able to grow with you into the future.
In your quest to serve people with disabilities, how much more effective could you be with modernized technology? An investment in modernization can help your agency stay compliant, reduce costs, and reach better outcomes for more participants.