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The Aspiring Workforce research project released (Part 1)

June 27, 2013

The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s 2009 study on the barriers and opportunities for employment for persons with mental health disabilities has been released. The main sections include a literature review on employment for persons with mental illness, an overview of provincial disability programs and work incentives/disincentives, an environmental scan of social businesses and workplace issues, and a comprehensive list of recommendations. The first two sections are explored in this article.

The first section includes analysis of literature on Supported Employment (SE), interviews with consumers of SE services, and a survey of SE service providers. The final component in the section was the compilation of an inventory of SE services in Canada.

Nineteen recommendations were identified in this section, including:

  • SE programs should provide vocational, social skills and cognitive training for their clients where the need exists.
  • SE programs should seek out not only part-time, temporary jobs, but also those that are full time with benefits.
  • Creating opportunities for networking and partnering with local employers.
  • The need for more research on the cost/benefit ratio of SE to the social and health systems.

Key findings from the research included:

  • A weak economy is a barrier to successful SE activities.
  • Job tenure is lengthened when skills training, cognitive training, workplace accommodations, and job choice are factored into the support employment model.
  • Most jobs were temporary, part-time.
  • Clients who had worked in the past benefited more from SE than clients who had no employment history.
  • There are mixed reports in the literature on the effectiveness of SE with people with different cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. More research is required.
  • Peer support appears to be associated with improved job attainment and better ability to deal with the stresses of work.
  • Barriers to effective delivery of the SE program arose from staff’s own attitudes and expectations regarding clients’ histories and abilities.

The study also identified best practices within the SE model, such as the importance of integration of mental health support and vocational services.

Interviews with 21 SE participants at various stages of the employment process were also conducted. The participants were selected from a range of provinces/territories. Many of the experiences mirrored what the literature findings revealed. However, some participants did state that it was difficult finding employment because employers were hesitant to hire people with mental illness. Also, some participants suggested there is a lack of support for self-employment for clients who want to start and own their own businesses. Participants also had suggestions for improving existing SE programs, including offering more support for clients to complete secondary and post-secondary education.

Service providers were also interviewed to ensure Canadian labour market context was included in the research.  Frontline service providers such as job coaches, vocational counselors, and employment specialists gave responses. Key findings indicate the need exists to further target the stigma associated with mental illness in the workplace, and to maintain government funding for the programs associated with SE.

A study of the disability structures was also conducted. Composition of benefits, types of disabilities, and earnings were explored in detail. Each province has an income assistance program that covers people with disabilities. However, in New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, there is only one income assistance program available.  All of the provinces have a provision in which benefits are recouped based on earnings.  However, only Ontario and Quebec offer competitive work-related benefits.

Watch for Part 2 of our summary of The Aspiring Workforce report in the next issue of Mental Health Notes.

See, The Aspiring Workforce: Employment and Income for People with Serious Mental Illness available at the Mental Health Commission website.

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