Individual Placement and Support Means Better Jobs and Happier Clients


A person seeking vocational rehabilitation (VR) services often has to go through a lengthy process before finding work—assessments, evaluations, and tests to ensure readiness. The VR specialist often works with people who face significant barriers to employment, and they want to make sure that the person can succeed on the job, a process that often takes time.

But this route to work is beginning to shorten. Individualized Placement and Support (IPS) is a model of rapid job development for people with significant mental illness. Pioneered over fifteen years ago at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, it essentially amounts to trying to place a person into a job from the very first day he or she seeks employment.

Dartmouth researchers discovered that often, a VR specialist was successful in helping a person get a job—but the challenge was keeping it. The focus changed to finding the job, and then customizing the support to help the person keep that job.

“What they discovered at Dartmouth was that we need to be more rapid in our approach,” observes Neil McNeil, a program manager with the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “VR is starting to use employment of all kinds much earlier in the process. Internships, work experiences, job shadowing, work tryouts. Getting a client engaged with a company as soon as you possibly can usually leads to more successful employment.”

“What we’ve discovered is that the first six months of a client’s VR experience is usually when they drop out,” McNeil notes. “If nothing of substance happens in that time, clients get lost, drop out, give up. If you can get a client engaged with an employer, maybe not in a regular job, but in a work experience, job training, internship, you have a higher success rate.”

McNeil explains that this rapid method of job placement is much more similar to how people find work outside of the VR community. “I always tell people, think of your own work life. Think of your experience—no one planned it all out for you, no one sat down and said, ‘We need to plan your getting a job as a bagger at a grocery store.’ You just did it. You figured it out.”

“We have people who come to VR who have a significant disability,” McNeil observes, “but maybe they have already worked recently, maybe they’ve looked for a job on their own when they apply for services. Are you going to take away that momentum? Or are you going to engage that person quickly and reinforce that job search?”

Placing a person into a good job quickly involves research and training. The DirectCourse/College of Employment Services (CES) curriculum can help VR specialists to thoroughly understand the marketplace, to look at the people they support and help them to find the jobs that suit them best, and to support those individuals through the ups and downs of work.

The CES courses Performance Coaching and Support Parts 1 and 2 unpack all the details of how an employment specialist can support someone on the job. This helps to ensure that the job match stays strong and that both the employee and the business are satisfied.

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