“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

Institute for Work & Health
481 University Avenue, Suite 800
Toronto, Ontario

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.

About presenter

Photo of Ellen MacEachen

Dr. Ellen MacEachen is an associate professor and associate director in the School of Public Health and Health Systems in the University of Waterloo's Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, where she oversees the graduate research program. She is also co-founder of the Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy, an associate editor with the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, former president of the Canadian Association for Research on Work and Health, and editor of the forthcoming book The Science and Politics of Work Disability Policy (Routledge). 

About IWH Speaker Series

The IWH Speaker Series brings you the latest findings from work and health researchers from the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) and other Canadian and international academic institutions around the world. For those unable to attend in person or via live stream, most presentations in the IWH Speaker Series are audio-recorded and made available as slidecasts, typically within two weeks of the original presentation.