What Better Looks Like for DCHS Employment and Education Work

DCHS’s three divisions—Community Services, Developmental Disabilities, and Mental Health, Chemical Abuse and Dependency Services—each have Employment and Education programs, which aim to enable citizens to obtain living wage jobs.

Through these programs, King County serves over twelve thousand individuals each year, the great majority of whom are low income and may also face barriers to obtaining work due to disabilities, lower-education, homelessness, or involvement with the criminal justice system.

Until recently, however, in trying to achieve success in specific programs targeting the discrete customer populations that each division serves, the divisions were missing opportunities to share resources and insights in order to better connect job seekers with employers.

The three divisions of King County’s Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) weren’t coordinating their efforts at serving King County’s job seekers.

For several month, DCHS has been changing that. “We wanted to know what ‘better’ would look like,” says Deputy Director Josephine Wong, explaining how DCHS asked some fundamental questions about the work it was doing and began developing ways to improve for both job seekers and businesses. “Are we meeting the needs of the community? Is it equitable? Is it accessible?”

DCHS developed a “line of business” plan that re-focused and standardized the department’s employment and
education work around meeting the needs of its customers, King County’s job seekers and businesses seeking workers.

What is a Line of Business?

Lines of Business are the County operations that produce and deliver specific services or products such as stormwater management, elections, or emergency medical services. Lines of Business often involve more than one county agency. Likewise, individual agencies may be involved in several lines of business; for example, the Department of Transportation is the primary agency for the Roads line of business, the Airport line of business, and the Public Transportation line of business.

How is Line of Business planning different from traditional planning?

* Line of business planning focuses on customers, the residents of King County

* It is collaborative thinking that crosses organizational lines

* The time horizon is significantly longer (ten years versus one year)

* Line of Business planning identifies potential challenges and assesses scenario alternatives (if this, then that)

How does King County do Line of Business Planning?

King County agencies plan their Lines of Business by identifying products and value streams, determining product metrics, assessing strategic issues, forecasting demand, developing cost models, analyzing possible alternatives for addressing problems, and incorporating all of this planning into budgets.

To assist agency planning, the Office of Performance, Strategy & Budget (PSB) provides tools and templates, such for capacity and demand forecasting, value stream mapping, or product performance metrics. PSB also provides training and ongoing support to agencies as they develop Line of Business plans.


A DCHS team maps their work processes with members of PSB.

Who are our customers and what do they need?

Talking with each other about a single organizational purpose for Employment and Education was itself a breakthrough, explains Gretchen Bruce, who managed the initial line of business planning process within DCHS.

One of the drawbacks of working in silos—even if each of the divisions was doing their piece well—is that the people in the organizations might not spot opportunities to marry their efforts to have greater impact.

Revisiting the basic question “Who are our customers and what do they need?” was crucial to improvement, says Bruce. And it propelled DCHS into some fearless analysis of their own work.

DCHS assessed gaps in employment and education support in the region—whether provided by King County or other organizations—identifying the ways in which King County’s employment and education work is most needed. The department also determined that other providers fill certain niches well already, without need for King County intervention.

What they found:

  • King County’s role is most influential and necessary in helping populations that face barriers to accessing mainstream supports and are left behind economically in low wage/low skills jobs. As the final line of business plan notes, “Few other providers or regional coordinators have the resources or influence to support this low skilled/high need population. However, great gains are to be made in helping this cohort achieve self-sufficiency, community inclusion, and reduced use of publicly-funded services.”
  • Certain cohorts, such as high skilled workers seeking high salary jobs, are already served well by other entities.
  • King County is uniquely positioned to engage both employees and employers, serving as a bridge, as it were, between those seeking work and those seeking workers.

In the past, the county had focused more on the job seekers than on the needs of the employers, acknowledges Gretchen Bruce. The line of business focus on delivering value to customers helped the people in the department to recognize that, in order to be successful, the county would have to better serve employers as well, in part by better providing job seekers with the skills and knowledge that employers want.

sweet spot

Highlighting shared priorities spurred rich discussions among staff that helped them identify opportunities to use resources more collaboratively. The department’s emphasis on forging better connections to businesses is an example.  Veterans Program Manager Nancy Loverin explains, “We don’t currently have capacity at the department level to market to businesses, but there is a nine-person team with the Seattle King County WorkSource System doing it already as part of a program. Why don’t we link all of our divisions to that business team?”

A Standard Approach to Business

Because each division focused on a unique demographic, it felt like each was doing very different work. In their discussions, though, they saw the same basic elements in much of their work, helping them align work and share insights across their programs and divisions.

  • Each division had a similar set of processes, such as intake, assessment, training, and job placement.
  • Each division had similar customers and stakeholders (such as people seeking work or new skills, schools, courts, and employers)
  • Each division had a similar product (helping people gain employment or develop certain skills) and similar metrics by which to measure success.

They experienced common challenges and shared opportunities to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their work. And, as in the case of Loverin identifying an opportunity with the business marketing team, the team is now seeing more ways in which they can share the functional pieces of their work, such as intake or job placement resources, even if the divisions and specific programs have a variety of objectives and target populations.

DCHS employment and education processes

Employment and education work shares many common processes, products, and metrics – regardless of division or program or target customer.

This sort of collaborative thinking in service of customer outcome goals helped DCHS develop strategies that increase the department’s capacity to make the most out of its resources.

With a common understanding of the County’s employment and education goals and a more coordinated approach to achieving them across programs, everyone can concentrate their efforts where they can do the most good — on knowing our customers and meeting their needs.

This was high-level PDCA, checking and adjusting the county’s work in order to best achieve the mission of serving King County citizens.

Today, the staff from the three divisions are talking more among each other, planning together, and making tactical decisions based on what helps the County’s employment and education work as a whole.

Teams are exploring ways to integrate the education and employment resources and services with other client needs, such as housing, healthcare, transportation, childcare, and more, with the ultimate King County goal of a seamless, integrated whole-person array of human services for individuals and families.

Next week we will share a story about the “Right Touch” approach for serving Employment and Education customers that DCHS has identified as a best practice model in one of its programs.

The department is now trying to foster elements of this approach in other areas.

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