What is a Vocational Workshop?

Vocational Workshop

What is a Sheltered Workshop and how is it applicable to injured workers under the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation statute? 

According to Section North Carolina Statute 97-32.2 (d),

Specific vocational rehabilitation services may include, but are not limited to, vocational assessment, vocational exploration, sheltered workshop or community supported employment training, counseling, job analysis, job modification, job development and placement, labor market survey, vocational or psychometric testing, analysis of transferable skills, work adjustment counseling, job seeking skills training, on‑the‑job training, or  training or education through the North Carolina community college or university systems.

In March 2011, a speech by Samuel R. Bagenstos, the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, cited the NDRN report in explicitly criticizing the entire concept underlying the sheltered workshop. Bagenstos took the position that the principle articulated in the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C. which he described as "that persons with disabilities have a right to spend their lives in the most integrated setting appropriate for them as individuals" -- "is just as sensibly applied to the employment setting." He argued that "a full and equal life in the community—the ultimate goal of Olmstead—cannot be achieved without a meaningful, integrated way to spend the day, including integrated 'work options.” He stated:

When individuals with disabilities spend years— indeed, decades—in congregate programs doing so-called jobs like these, yet do not learn any real vocational skills, we should not lightly conclude that it is the disability that is the problem. Rather, the programs’ failure to teach any significant, job-market-relevant skills leaves their clients stuck. As a recent review of the literature concludes, “[t]he ineffectiveness of sheltered workshops for helping individuals progress to competitive employment is well established.”

In a 6-to-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court on June 22, 1999 the Court cited the Attorney General’s regulation quoted above, calling it the “integration regulation”, and affirmed that “unjustified isolation is properly regarded as discrimination based on disability.”

The Court explained that recognizing unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities as a form of discrimination reflects two judgments. One is that “institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life.” The other is that “confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment.”

According to a study conducted by John Kregel and David H. Dean entitled SHELTERED vs. SUPPORTED EMPLOYMENT conducted through Virginia Commonwealth University, they made the following assessment:

Virtually all forms of sheltered employment can generally be classified into two types. Transitional employment programs are intended to provide training and experience to individuals in segregated settings so that they will be able to acquire the skills necessary to succeed in subsequent competitive employment. Extended employment programs are designed to be long-term or permanent placements for individuals that will allow them to use their existing abilities to earn wages in the segregated workshop setting.

Continuing, the researchers opined:

Supported employment, developed in the Federal/State VR program in 1986, is viewed as competitive employment in an integrated work setting for individuals traditionally unable to obtain and maintain employment in the open labor market. As recently as 1986, only 300 programs across the country provided supported employment services. Today, over 3,000 agencies provide supported employment to over 250,000 individuals across the nation (Kregel & Wehman, 1997).

In North Carolina, over the years sheltered workshops have transitioned into vocational workshops placing more emphasis on supported employment assisting in, as the researchers astutely state, “integrating individuals traditionally unable to obtain and maintain employment in the open labor market” through a competitive work setting by providing “training and experience.”  For the disabled population which includes injured workers, vocational workshops provide a work setting where they, the clients, learn valuable transferrable work skills, as well as attaining a current work history and employer reference.

Vocational workshops typically accept their clients from North Carolina Department of Vocational Rehabilitation or the local social service agency whereby the daily rate is paid out of local or state funds.  On the other hand, when a referral comes from a source other than state rehab or the local social service agency, the referring source is billed on a per diem basis that is anywhere from $65.00 to $120.00 per day.  (All rates are negotiable.) The work week is Monday through Friday, with a typical work day being seven (7) hours, to include a 10 minute break mid-morning and 30 minutes for lunch.  Clients perform assembly type work in a supervised setting and, as per federal law, are compensated at a piece work rate which can average as much as $8.00 per hour.

In closing, for certain injured workers, placement in a vocational workshop is a beneficial option within the job placement process.  The injured worker not only has somewhere to report five days a week for seven plus hours per day, but also has the opportunity to learn valuable work skills that can transfer into the general economy. A final benefit of placement in a vocational workshop is that the injured worker can still participate in job search.