Some of the greatest comeback stories in history, involve an athlete who persevered after suffering a serious injury, only to find themselves in an exciting new career as a coach, trainer or sportscaster.
When it happens in professional sports, it is looked at as a successful transition; somehow when it pertains to an average worker rebooting their career after a workplace injury, it seems significantly less glamorous.
Probably because it doesn’t come with a multimillion dollar contract, right?
Every year in the United States, millions of workers suffer temporary or permanent workplace injuries, that alter their capacity to continue in their present occupation. According, to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.9 million non-fatal workplace injuries occurred in the United States in 2015 alone.
Workplace injuries were reported at a rate of 3.0 cases per 100 full-time workers, which represents a continued pattern of decline in injuries over the past thirteen years. Private industry employers (non-government) reported that there were 48,000 fewer cases of injuries in 2015. However, for almost three million Americans, a workplace injury impacted their ability to maintain full-time employment in their career or occupation.
The good news is that there are several steps and multiple resources available for American workers who find themselves in an involuntary career transition, resulting from a workplace injury. Workers can be rehabilitated and trained into exciting new career opportunities.
Working for Your Employer
Depending on the nature of your injury, and the size of the employing organization, it may be possible for an injured worker to retrain for a new role with the existing employer. Frequently, employers will make a substantial effort to keep skilled employees, and reevaluate new employment options, where possible.
While some employers may look at vocational rehabilitation within the organization as a corporate responsibility, for many companies, it is a cost saving measure. Full-time employees may be entitled to disability benefits through employee health programs and insurance, which represents an increased cost to employers. If they can provide modifications to your existing job, or offer you a different role with retraining, the option both retains an experienced employee, while reducing costs for the employer.
However, many employees do not explore the opportunity to retrain for a new role, with their current employer. After completing physical health rehabilitation, your first step should be to investigate other modified duties that you may be able to perform, without leaving your employer. If you are open to this idea, have a conversation with your benefits administrator or human resource department, and prepare a proposal of transferrable skills. You may have exactly the right skills for another position that your employer has not considered you for.
If you love where you work, organize the information on similar roles that do not have the same physical requirements as your previous work-related duties. If retraining will be required, indicate to your employer that you are willing to engage in continuing education, certification and on-the-job training to be qualified. If you have been a loyal and hardworking, valuable employee, help your employer find a new place for you, by taking the initiative and proposing alternatives.
Vocational Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Services
A vocational rehabilitation specialist provides professional career coaching services. Part of the process may involve psychometric testing to determine transferable skills, personality strengths and other soft skills that can be applied in a new job. You may even qualify for educational grants.
Testing can include reading and writing, computer technology aptitudes, and other talents and strengths that the injured employee has. While the process can feel invasive, it is an exciting opportunity to explore skills that you may not have acknowledged in the past. A personal inventory evaluation will help you choose not only a career you can manage, but one that you will thrive and advance in.
Vocational rehabilitation services are generally provided and covered by many employer insurance programs. The goal is to successfully engage the injured worker in a career that closely matches his or her pre-injury occupational salary.
A worker may be entitled to vocational rehabilitation services if they:
- Have suffered a disability that results in significant and substantial barriers to employment.
- Qualify as a candidate, meeting standards and potential to be retrained for a new career. This includes college courses, programs and degrees, or technology certifications.
Workers may also qualify for vocational rehabilitation if they have pronounced disabilities in other areas, including mental health, hearing impairment, alcohol or drug addiction, developmental and cognitive learning disabilities, or traumatic brain, spinal, or mobility restrictions. Loss of vision and blindness, or loss of hearing are also qualified injury circumstances.
It is important to note that disability benefits require workers to return to work in the case of a temporary injury, where no modifications may be provided. Insurance representatives will monitor psychometric and physician or therapeutic clinical reports, to determine when they feel the employee will be able to return to his or her pre-injury occupation, or commence retraining for a new career.
Starting a New Career
It is important to remember that starting a new career, and one that you have little experience in, also means a potential reduction in your salary. Unless you are employed in a business that has a Union (where your rights to pre-injury earnings and job modifications are protected), workers should anticipate a drop-in salary.
Part of adjusting to a new career after a workplace injury is reconciling the physical, emotional and financial loss that it entails. This can be the most difficult aspect of vocational rehabilitation, particularly if you have worked aggressively to advance your career and income within a trade, or skilled technical position. The Chicago Injury Center shares that a loss of vocation and career identity can be factors that slow advancement in a new role; expectations and grief can impact confidence and motivation.
If you are transitioning from a labor-intensive position, to a more sedentary and administrative role, the career change can provide numerous long-term advantages, particularly to older workers. It can add years to your career and improve income potential, over the long run.
Edward Garcia is a freelance writer and blogger from Chicago, IL who loves to write about varied topics including law, finance and technology. He loves travelling and adventure sports.