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Career Profiles are Key to Client Success in Supported Employment

IPS programs work to rapidly place clients with mental health and co-occurring disorders in competitive jobs. Creating a career profile is critical to the process.

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Helpful Information

When an employment specialist was getting to know her new client, Wayne, she asked him which family members he would like to involve in his employment plans. Wayne said he would like to include his parents, so the employment specialist set up a meeting for the four of them.

During the meeting, Wayne's parents talked about their son's most recent attempt to work. They were regular customers at the store where their son worked, and after he was fired, they asked the store owner why their son had been let go. The owner said that their son had a hard time following directions and seemed to ignore feedback about his performance.

The family had seen similar problems at home—they reported that sometimes Wayne just didn't seem to hear them, even when he answered "Okay." This information helped the employment specialist recognize the importance of developing job supports to help Wayne process and remember instructions from his future employer.

For instance, she thought she might suggest that the employer ask Wayne to repeat instructions in order to double-check that Wayne understood what he was supposed to do. She also thought she might offer to go to work with Wayne for at least the first week to help him learn the job. Finally, she talked to Wayne about which types of jobs he preferred, and he liked her idea of looking for jobs that have routine duties.

In Individual Placement and Support (IPS), services are designed specifically for each person. In fact, no two people participating in the program should receive identical services. Employment specialists and clients work side by side (and with suggestions from the team) to determine which strategies will work best for the individual client. Prevocational activities such as vocational tests, work samples, work readiness groups, and work adjustment activities are not part of IPS. Like most of us, clients don't want to jump through hoops before going back to work. Further, employment specialists don't want clients to feel as though they must prove their ability to work. Rather, employment specialists try to communicate a hopeful attitude about everyone's ability to work by starting the job search soon after the person expresses interest in work.

This means that instead of spending time on testing and work readiness activities, the employment specialist and client begin by gathering a variety of information, including historical information from the client, and (with permission) talking with family members and previous employers. The employment specialist studies the client's clinical record and consults with other members of the team. The client and employment specialist work together to create a plan designed to help the person obtain a job as quickly as possible. They recognize that the best assessment and training for getting a job is often getting a job; experience is the best teacher.

Creating a Career Profile

Assessment is a collaborative activity consisting of conversations with the client, mental health practitioners, family members (with permission), VR counselors, and others. The aim is to get to know the client, understand his or her goals, obtain a detailed work history (to understand what type of jobs and job supports might work best), and other information that will help the person succeed. Some people refer to this as an assessment or a career profile. (In the past, we used the term vocational profile, but because IPS programs also help with career development and supported education, we now use the term career profile more frequently.)

In creating a career profile, remember that the goal is to work with the strengths, life situation, challenges, and personal styles a person has, rather than trying to change the person to fit into certain jobs. For example, a person who isn't attentive to personal grooming may want to try an outdoor job setting such as a plant nursery or a recycling center rather than an office. An individual who likes to be physically active might try a delivery job or some other outdoor job. The job should match who the person is.

If someone hasn't worked for many years, has a criminal record, or has some other barrier, it can be intimidating to think about helping that person find a job. Sometimes employment specialists encourage clients to take whatever job clients can find to build a work history. This sounds sensible, but the reality is that such an approach doesn't work. People don't stay on jobs that don't interest them, and then the job search has to start all over again. Try to take the long view and help people find jobs that are good matches.

Gathering Information from Multiple Sources

Much of the information for the profile will come directly from conversations with the client. But employment specialists should seek information from other sources, as well. You wouldn't want to ask the client all the questions needed to fill in the profile; doing so would likely irritate any person. By looking in the person's mental health record, the specialist can gain some information about the person's symptoms and current treatment. Mental health practitioners will likely have additional information about the person's illness, substance use (if any), and living situation. Further, mental health practitioners may have knowledge of the person's work history and be able to offer valuable information about the experience. With permission, the employment specialist can help the client obtain an accurate copy of his or her criminal record, if any. Finally, family members often have useful information about the person's past work and school experiences, as well as thoughts about good job matches, further education, and so on.

Employment specialists must always ask clients for permission before contacting their family members and should include clients in any meetings with the family so they don't feel that others are talking about them behind their backs. Later in this chapter you'll find more information about including family members in the employment plan.

As mentioned earlier, it isn't a good idea to use the career profile form as a questionnaire. In other words, we don't recommend sitting with a client and asking question after question while you fill in the answers. We also don't recommend giving the form to clients and asking them to fill it in. Instead, talk to your clients about their work history, education, preferences for work or school, and so on. You could ask if it is all right to take a few notes while the person is talking, but try to spend most of the conversation making eye contact and allowing the conversation to flow in a natural way. Remember, one of the goals of working on the profile is to develop a relationship. Also remember that you don't have to fill out the entire profile in one meeting. In most cases, you will want to spend two or three meetings getting to know the person and gathering information that can be added to the profile.

After a person has been working or attending school, it is important to update the profile with each new job and education experience. Think about how much you learn about clients when you see them try a job. Now think about the next employment specialist who will work with this person. It's unlikely that this person will find your progress notes about the client's work or school experiences in a thick chart. But by adding a short update to the career profile, any practitioner can quickly get a sense of the person's work and education history, including things that worked and didn't work for that person.

Excerpted from Supported Employment: Applying the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) Model to Help Clients Compete in the Workforce. Hazelden, 2011.

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Related Material

Supported Employment Manual

Supported Employment:
Applying the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) Model to Help Clients Compete in the Workforce

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