One of the hardest struggles of someone who is facing employment barriers (e.g., justice-involvement, mental illness, homelessness, intellectual or developmental disabilities) is simply getting access to the proper support for on-the-job success. The drive is there, but the support across employment sectors isn’t. So how do we fix this? Ed Long at MetaFund is at the helm of a community-wide effort in Oklahoma City that is tackling that very problem.

The Employment and Training Alliance of Central Oklahoma (Alliance) is a Great Idea Challenge Initiative funded by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation with input from more than 60 public, private and nonprofit partner organizations, as well as individual job seekers. In our latest interview, we dive straight into how the Alliance is planning to change the employment game in Oklahoma.


Ed Long’s Background

Ed Long can’t resist helping those around him and his passion shows in his work. He is currently the vice president of Metafund, where he helps expand the organization’s financing and community development activities.

Before this, he was the founder and principal of Cross Sector Innovations, where he bridged the gap between the public and private sectors by facilitating innovative partnerships that maximize outcomes and improve the efficient use of resources. His work has helped in areas of healthcare, mental health, criminal justice, and of course today’s topic: getting people into the workforce. Ed Long is currently a member of the board of directors for the Oklahoma Autism Center Foundation, Program Committee for the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, and president-elect of the Oklahoma Association for Infant Mental Health.

How Did You End Up In This World?

“My heart is in public service and that’s just who I am and always will be. I have worked in all of the sectors at one point or another, and I just recognized that there is an opportunity to be more creative with some of the solutions we bring to the community and statewide challenges.”

What Is The Employment & Training Alliance of Central Oklahoma?

“I’m really excited about the Alliance. It’s funded by the A Great Idea Challenge Grant from the Oklahoma City Community Foundation. During their 50 year anniversary, the OCCF issued a call to action for social impact and awarded a number of projects funding for a two year period. The Alliance is one of them, and we are currently in our second calendar year of funding.”

“The funding is being used to develop a network of employers, job seekers, educators, and service providers to help individuals overcome barriers to achieving sustainable employment. We will provide No Wrong Door access to a central referral hub to connect folks to educational, social, and job supports that maximize success for job seekers, employees, and employers.”

“This could range from the basic needs of food and housing to on-site job coaches and workplace supports. We are partnering with organizations to improve access, communication, and coordination across existing supports for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities; those who are justice-involved; or, folks experiencing homelessness, mental illness, or substance use disorders. Where services are lacking, we can leverage cross-sector resources to test and scale innovative strategies for meeting individual needs and support Oklahomans in living their best life.”

“Through the Alliance, employers will have access to a talent pool that is well-supported and prepared for maximum success. But this can really benefit an Oklahoman dealing with homelessness, addiction… a fair chance population so anyone coming out of incarceration or someone with a developmental issue can be impacted by this.”

Ed goes on to say that in the coming weeks the Alliance will be partnering with the Oklahoma City Diversion Hub, the Governor’s Front Porch Initiative and dozens of public, private and nonprofit organizations to pilot a shared referral platform that will be used by nonprofit and government programs to improve person-centered coordination of services across an array of needs. Regardless of which Alliance partner organization someone visits, they can choose to answer a few intake questions that will ultimately result in emails going out to those partners who can provide additional assistance. A rideshare pilot will also be launched in partnership with EMBARK, SendaRide, and the Diversion Hub over the next few weeks to provide transportation to classes, job interviews, and social service appointments.

Providing Another Layer of Support

“ So, for example, we are partnering with 211, which has a great online database, that you can go to for, say, food, shelter, and clothing or anything else you may need, and they have people internally that will help with a warm handoff to these services. We will add an additional layer of support by also partnering with a care coordination platform that will improve case management and close the feedback loop by helping us collect outcome data to ensure the needs of those we serve are effectively being met. If someone is not achieving the expected outcomes, we have an opportunity to figure out why and work with them on new, individualized strategies to support their success.”

“So say someone walks in and says that they need two or three services. An email then goes out to all of our partner agencies and then one of those agencies says ‘I got it, let’s get them connected.’ Once all the pieces that are needed are picked up, a caseworker can follow up to see if the individual accessed these services and if their needs were met. If they did not make it to their appointment, we can find out what happened. Did they not have any transportation or child care? Did they have a crisis moment? So we can follow up and ask these questions and find out how we can help.”

How Can We Break Down The Stigma of Hiring Someone Dealing With an Employment Barrier?

“This is one of the biggest barriers that we are trying to overcome. It is a huge issue. Here’s the thing, let’s take one potential barrier as an example. Let’s look at folks dealing with mental illness. One of our partner programs, Individual Placement & Support (IPS), which is administered by the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, offers intensive, individualized supports to help folks get a job based on their unique strengths and continue to offer job coaching and help with barriers that may come up once someone is on the job, such as transportation or personal crises. IPS is an evidence-based program with proven outcomes, and has a great track record for helping folks with the most significant barriers to achieving sustainable employment. Success on the job helps increase the individual’s self-esteem and provides some financial stability which in turn helps with addressing other challenges. Working is considered part of recovery.

IPS is also used to addressing other potential barriers such as those experiencing homelessness, those who are justice-involved, individuals with an intellectual or developmental disability, and more. It is often provided free-of-charge to the employer and job seeker, and offers support and follow-up with an employee that an employer may not have the capacity to offer. As the IPS staff in Oklahoma often say to employers, look, you’re already hiring people with mental illness or drug addiction, you just may not know it. Or, if you do, you don’t have the resources to help them, so they end up terminated. So, rather than terminating someone, we want to more intensively engage them with support and wrap-around services.”

“As another example, consider individuals with intellectual disabilities. While the medical diagnosis of intellectual disability, or ID, is a measured IQ score of 70 or below, that is just a diagnosis. People with an intellectual disability are no different than people without. We all need training and some continued support depending on our personal strengths and skills. When we talk to Oklahomans with ID they tell us over and over that a good life for them is defined by multiple things and a big piece of it is having a meaningful day which includes employment.”

“Sometimes before an employer hires a person with ID, they get caught up in thinking they are being charitable or that they are doing them a favor. But it’s just good business. There are large corporations and small businesses in Oklahoma who have used customized employment—a well-researched model providing employment support to individuals with intellectual disabilities—to effectively accomplish their goals while creating efficiencies in workflow. It considers the strengths of the employee, identifies where an employer spends a lot of time and resources, and develops process improvements where the employee brings significant value.

In addition, we consistently hear from employers who have hired people with an ID that there is a strong commitment to the job and dedication to the company.

The Goal Of Neese & The Employment & Training Alliance of Central Oklahoma

It is the belief of Neese Personnel and The Employment & Training Alliance of Central Oklahoma that everyone should have the opportunity to work. By coordinating resources and closing gaps, the number of unemployed in Oklahoma can be decreased. When we come together and put stigmas aside, we can change the workforce environment in Oklahoma City for the better.

This is a massive job pool, and by creating better communication between companies and closing the gaps between them, the number of unemployed in Oklahoma can be decreased. It is by creating this amazing alliance and by placing stigmas aside that we can change the workforce environment in OKC for the best.

By using these principles, Neese Personnel has become the most recognized full-service staffing agency in Oklahoma City. To learn more about how Neese Personnel can help your business or learn more about diversity and inclusion, call 405.942.8551 or send us a message online. We’d love to meet with you.