Providing Vocational Assessment to Clients with Mental Health Conditions

Aviator 3 - Providing Vocational Assessment to Clients with Mental Health Conditions

Scott Byiers is Manager of Sair Centre of Learning, located in downtown Winnipeg Manitoba. Sair provides a variety of vocational evaluation and training services to Winnipeg residents who have mental health conditions. Clients are referred to Sair by Provincial Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors and Community Mental Health Workers, with funding from the Provincial Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Scott currently does all of Sair’s vocational evaluations, and works with three Employment and Training Specialists on staff.

Since Sair acquired Valpar’s Aviator 3 in October of 2003, Scott has completed over 50 evaluations with it, all at the request of referring agents. “I really like Aviator,” said Scott. “Clients and the referring counselors do, too. Aviator provides a great deal of useful information in a relatively short time. Clients find Aviator interesting and non-threatening, and the counselors like the reports they get.”

After the clients’ vocational evaluations, most enter a 20-day community-based Work Assessment program. They are placed in cooperating community businesses where they work as unpaid, part-time staff (at least 15 hours per week) for 20 days. “The on-the-job exposure provides valuable work experiences for clients. They get a real sense of what it means to have a job, and they get a more realistic understanding of their work readiness,” said Scott.

The various diagnoses of Sair’s clients run the full spectrum from anxiety, depressive, and obsessive-compulsive disorders to bi-polar and schizophrenic illnesses. “I’ve worked with just about any client population you could name, and this group is by far the most challenging to place,” said Scott. “For one thing, there’s still a stigma in the minds of the public about mental illness. It frightens people. What’s more, clients with psychiatric disabilities often have cyclical and unstable symptoms.”

“We have about 65 or 70 active clients, and we get about eight new people per month,” said Scott. “Usually the referring agents want us to do an evaluation on individuals before we place them into the 20-day program. Aviator is the main tool I use for that. It’s so much better than the instruments I had before we got Aviator. And particularly with our clientele, it’s important to remove as much stress from the testing situation as possible. With Aviator, I don’t have to stand over their shoulder with a stopwatch anymore. That kind of thing is particularly stressful for people with mental health problems. I stay close at hand as the clients go through Aviator so I can develop work-relevant subjective impressions based on client behavior while taking the various subtests. I put my observations and any related inferences I might have drawn into the client reports.”

“After the evaluation, I give each person a copy of his or her report, and, along with the client’s counselor, we sit with the client to go over the evaluation results,” Scott said. “I usually cross-reference job matches from Aviator’s O*Net and/or Dictionary of Occupational Titles databases to the Canadian National Occupational Classification online database. We look at the matches and the evaluation results to help explore options, and decide what kind of direction to take. Where do clients go from there? Are they ready for the 20-day community Work Assessment? If they seem ready, they go into the 20-day program. If they make it through that phase of the program, they come back and we meet with their referring counselor to discuss how to proceed—work training, employment, or postponement of further occupational activity until they feel better prepared. We provide supported job search services for those who want to continue into employment, and, when requested by the referring counselor, we provide follow-up services.”

Scott is a strong proponent of Aviator. “Aviator is non-threatening, and virtually stress-free, so you get a better picture of the client as a result. It gives a lot of useful information, quickly, and the counselors like the reports.”

Scott is a Winnipeg native. He completed a degree in English Literature at the University of Winnipeg and earned a Social Work degree at the University of Manitoba. He started working as a vocational rehabilitation counselor and later as a supervisor for not-for-profit vocational rehabilitation agencies in the early 1980s. He later took a position with a for-profit business where he worked for a few years before joining Sair Centre of Learning.

Sair is one of two divisions of Skills Unlimited, a private, not-for-profit agency that formed in 1965. At that time, the agency operated as a sheltered workshop for clients with developmental and psychiatric disabilities. “In 1993 government funding for sheltered workshops dried up, so the agency concentrated on serving clientele with mental disorders through its evaluation and training division, which was named the Sair Centre of Learning in 1995,” said Scott.

The other unit of Skills Unlimited is the Division of Skills Manufacturing. There, located in the same building with Sair, clients are paid employees who make all sorts of wooden products, including high quality furniture to boxes, crates, and pallets.

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