Does the supported employment approach really help people find jobs?

It is great that you or your relative is considering returning to work or wants to start working for the first time. There is reason to believe that being employed or even the process of looking for a job improves negative mood, increases self-esteem, and can reduce symptoms of one’s illness. This is especially true when job seeking or obtaining a job is done with the professional help of a supported employment specialist. The supported employment approach is an evidence-based practice that does help people return to work or even start work for the first time. The emphasis is on helping the job seeker obtain competitive employment. Competitive employment is defined as a “real” job in which the individual is hired, employed, and paid by an employer, not a rehabilitation agency, at not less than minimum wage or the customary wage for the position. Research shows that 70% of unemployed adults with serious mental illnesses (SMI) have a strong desire to work and consider finding a job a priority. A 2016 study of 23 supported employment programs (Drake, et al.) found that supported employment programs consistently produce better job outcomes than comparison programs such as prevocational programs, sheltered work, and Transitional Employment Programs. On average, 60% of individuals who were in supported employment programs obtained competitive employment, compared to 24% in comparison programs. Study participants were more successful in obtaining competitive work, worked more hours, and earned more from competitive employment than did individuals receiving other vocational services.

A desire to work is all that is required of the individual to get started. The supported employment specialist starts by asking what type of work you or your relative is interested in finding. The employment specialist reviews the job seeker’s employment history and interests, helps with resume building, counsels on how to complete and submit job applications, and role plays and practices successful job interview skills. The specialist will also help the individual stay on the job by giving support or by helping the individual acquire any needed skills.

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