“It’s like we’re forcing them to do it” Vocational retraining challenges facing providers and workers in Ontario’s Labour-Market Re-Entry program

Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Dr. Ellen MacEachen
Institute for Work & Health

Although there have been many studies of return to work, we know little about the situation of injured workers who cannot return to their old workplace and go through a workers’ compensation vocational retraining program. This qualitative study examined how vocational retraining works in practice in Ontario’s Labour Market Re-Entry (LMR) program in order to provide some understanding of this neglected dimension of return to work. Interviews and focus groups were conducted across Ontario with 71 injured workers, employers, WSIB staff, and worker representatives as well as the program’s outsourced labour market re-entry service providers and educators. Publicly available documents were also included, and the analysis followed general analytic approaches of grounded theory and discourse analysis.

We found that providers and workers struggled with fulfilling contradictory elements of the LMR Program. Although the LMR program logic rests on retraining goals as compatible with workers’ remaining functional abilities, we found that worker ill-health could be a regular barrier to retraining achievement. Although the program is set up so that workers are engaged in choice over new vocational goals, we found that options could seem forced. Finally, we found that different parties had varied understandings of "LMR success", which befuddled provision and assessments of some aspects of program service quality. This presentation will discuss how subcontracting of social services to vulnerable populations such as permanently injured workers can be susceptible to limited visibility of problems. This study identifies new dimensions of the return-to-work continuum and directions for further study.