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Vocational Evaluation in the 21st Century: Diversification and Independence.

It has been postulated that the profession of vocational evaluation has lost its usefulness and is dying (Hilyer, 1997; Parker & Schaller, 1996; Wehman, 1988). With the advent of outcome-based rehabilitation and the need for shorter, cheaper services, it is thought that the formal, comprehensive process of vocational evaluation is outdated and should be replaced by informal vocational assessment and quick screening processes that rely on interviews, self-report inventories, or fast, computer-based screening systems (Fewell, 1997; Hilyer, 1997; Lustig, Brown, Lott, & Larkin, 1998; Meade & Hoine, 1995; Parker & Schaller, 1996).

Although there is a reduction in the number of vocational evaluators in some states (Hilyer, 1997) due to a decline in referrals to evaluation from traditional vocational rehabilitation agencies, the service has gained popularity and increased referrals from other rehabilitation, education, human service, and private markets (Fewell, 1997). That is one reason why the Vocational Evaluation and Work Adjustment Association (VEWAA) has attempted to develop more creative means for encouraging professional membership of vocational evaluators from non-rehabilitation settings. This current downturn in the use of vocational evaluation services by some vocational rehabilitation state agencies may be only temporary, yet the effect is now challenging evaluators to continue to develop and refine new markets, thus ensuring the profession's independence and viability as a service that has value to society as a whole (Sawyer, 1987; Thomas, 1994). Society is becoming more complex, and information regarding how individuals can best identify their preferred life role is of use to everyone, including individuals with disabilities.

This article will explore the future direction of vocational evaluation services in the United States over the next 10 to 20 years. It will examine evaluation from the changing perspectives of philosophy, service directions, technology, populations, and referral sources. Although many of the ideas presented are already being discussed in the field, or implemented on a limited basis, general acceptance and routine application are not yet the norm.

A Philosophical Shift

Within rehabilitation and transition service delivery models, concepts of empowerment (informed choice, self-determination), and career development have given consumers more influence in decision making and greater control over planning their own futures. Information is empowering and vocational evaluation provides consumers with the resources to make "informed choices." These philosophical transformations in rehabilitation are occurring at a time when society is also experiencing changes in the nature of employment and the value of work (Gray & Alphonso, 1996; Ryan, 1995; Szymanski, Ryan, Merz, Trevino, & Johnson-Rodriguez, 1996). As consumer choice in vocational rehabilitation evolves to more closely resemble the same opportunities for freedom of choice exercised by society as a whole, consumers will ultimately acquire the right to select their own rehabilitation provider and purchase services they prefer for career development and employment. In vocational rehabilitation, this has been referred to as the "voucher" system; in Social Security, it is called a "Ticket to Independence" (Daniels, 1997; VEWAA, 1997). Persons with disabilities have long wanted the opportunity to choose their own services and destinies (Condeluci, 1995, 1996), and this prospect is quickly becoming a reality.

In an effort to become a vital part of this consumer-driven process, vocational evaluation will be marketed directly to the consumer as a valuable career development service (Thomas, 1994). The role as a rehabilitation provider will be de-emphasized in favor of three roles that reflect more accurately the scope of practice of the vocational evaluator. The three roles are: 1) vocational/career expert; 2) disability specialist; and, 3) educator (Thomas, 1997). Vocational evaluators are first and foremost vocational/career experts. Well-trained, qualified evaluators use career, occupational, and labor market information as their primary tools. They also use a variety of vocational evaluation instruments and techniques to determine vocational strengths and needs. Assisted by computer technology, evaluators help consumers match themselves with jobs, career paths, and vocational curricula, taking into consideration factors such as skills, abilities, interests, work values, environment, disability, culture, and the current and emerging labor market. The role of vocational/career expert is what evaluators perform best and it is this expertise that will be actively marketed to society in general, including persons with disabilities. Ultimately, it is important that vocational evaluation not be viewed as a rehabilitation service for a few but as a career development service available to anyone.

Second, vocational evaluators will market their skills as disability specialists. Individuals with disabilities would be more inclined to use a vocational/career expert who also has an understanding of the unique functional and employment issues and needs related to disability, such as reasonable accommodations in learning and performance. This would not diminish the value of the vocational evaluator in serving individuals without disabilities, but instead demonstrate a level of depth, flexibility, and sensitivity on the part of the professional that will benefit anyone using the service.

The final role of educator emphasizes the need for evaluators to educate consumers, case managers, other service providers, and society as a whole to the value of this service in helping anyone who has an interest in finding meaningful career direction and satisfying employment in a very diverse and complex society. Evaluators will also need to educate legislators and policy makers so that private practice by Certified Vocational Evaluators is included in state and federal legislation and regulations. Vocational evaluation is not just a service for persons with disabilities; it can benefit anyone with or without a disability, and this contribution to enhancing people's choices and quality of life will give evaluation increased social value as it continues to be marketed broadly. If a service is to be considered as having benefit for persons with disabilities, then they will be more inclined to use it if it has value to consumers without disabilities as well. Persons with disabilities do not want to be thought of as being different from the rest of society, and this includes the type of services used (Condeluci, 1995, 1996).

As this dynamic, interactive process of vocational evaluation (including career and vocational assessment) gains acceptance in society, employment opportunities for Certified Vocational Evaluators will grow faster in individual and group private practice than they will in traditional rehabilitation and transition settings. Group practice affiliations may include vocational evaluatots, rehabilitation counselors, assistive technology specialists, and employment specialists if dealing primarily with consumers funded through rehabilitation or transition sources; with psychologists if dealing with persons with long-term mental illness; with substance abuse counselors when serving recovering populations; or with career counselors if dealing with the general population (e.g., students, career changers, retirees seeking new opportunities). Private practice teams (or career development co-ops) will be created to offer integrated employment-based services to deal with traditional (vocational rehabilitation, transition from school-to-work, transition from welfare-to-work, SSI, SSDI), and new and emerging populations and settings (e.g., over 50 job changers, out-placement, the general public).

Outcome-based rehabilitation models, where payment is rendered only after stable employment is achieved, will drive service delivery. These lump sum payments must be credited to services that contribute to finding successful, stable employment, such as vocational evaluation, employment preparation, counseling, job development and placement, and follow-along (Fewell, 1997). To simply offer placement as the sole rehabilitation service will result in less than adequate placement, low consumer satisfaction, premature job turnover, and a negative impact on the reputation of rehabilitation. Rehabilitation agencies, community rehabilitation programs, and consumers in particular must be fully educated to the critical role vocational evaluation plays in ensuring their satisfaction with the chosen job.

One of the key issues to be addressed by vocational evaluators and other rehabilitation professionals in the 21 st century will be the "quality of life" of individuals served. Quality of life (QL) has become a major concern for all of society and, in particular, for retirees, people with and without disabilities who are aging, and individuals who do not or cannot work. Work is only one consideration in QL and may not be the most important factor for many people. Therefore, the assessment of QL should be broadened to focus on a variety of environments and activities in addition to employment. Independent living and assistive technology centers in the United States address QL issues, as do employee assistance counseling programs. Within the private-for-profit rehabilitation sector, life care planning for persons with disabilities considers quality of life in the development of a maintenance plan. Overall, consumer satisfaction with both the rehabilitation process and life in general will require that evaluators, as a routine part of their jobs, identify those QL factors (e.g., spirituality, material/physical well-being, personal fulfillment, life roles) that are important to consumers in employment, avocation, and independent living, and help them choose activities and environments that will offer the greatest opportunities for a quality life (Halpern, 1992).

Two Distinct Service Directions

Vocational evaluation will evolve in two major service directions: 1) career assessment and development, and 2) community-based assessment. The first direction will be the provision of career assessment, exploration, and development services for the general public, including persons with disabilities. Any individuals will be able to purchase these services as they would any other professional career development resource. The second direction involves community-based assessment with individuals with severe disabilities, dual diagnosis, and numerous personal/social/cultural/age barriers to employment. In both service directions, vocational evaluation will focus more on addressing the necessary balance between job/career and avocational/off-work activities in an attempt to improve overall quality of life. This focus on career-life satisfaction throughout the lifespan will promote the re-evaluation of consumers as they seek additional assistance with career direction in the future.

In the first direction, vocational evaluation will emphasize informed choice in career assessment and development (Hilyer, 1997). To this end, vocational evaluators will cultivate the use of profiles and portfolios as a regular part of the process. A profile is a form on which evaluation participants record their own evaluation results. The profile would contain essentially the same information that would be included in the evaluation report (e.g., skills, aptitudes, interests, values, strengths, needs, goals, plans) but it would be recorded by consumers in their own words and designed exclusively for consumers' own use. More comprehensive profiles are incorporated into manuals or books that provide detail on how to complete the forms and use the information in decision-making and planning (Bolles, 1997; Farley, Bolton, & Parkerson, 1992; Farley, Parkerson, Farley, & Martin, 1992; Lavin & Everett, 1995; Witt, 1992). A portfolio is a profile with space, folders, or envelopes for storing pertinent information such as evaluation results, job information, resumes, letters of reference, Social Security card, samples of work, transcripts, and certificates (Hoppin & Career Development Training Institute, 1995; Sitlington, Neubert, Begun, Lombard, & Leconte, 1996; Szymanski, Hershenson, Ettinger, & Enright, 1996).

Consumers will be given a personal profile or portfolio to complete throughout the evaluation process so they can learn how to use the collected information in self-assessment, decision-making, and career planning, both now and in the future. This process of empowerment will begin in evaluation first by teaching consumers how to complete and interpret their own profile or portfolio. As evaluation results are collected and recorded by the evaluator, they are shared with consumers so they can review and write the same information in their own profiles for later use in self-assessment, planning, and personal job development. Copies of interest inventories, test and work sample profiles, and occupational information can be reviewed and placed in their portfolios for later use. This individual or group empowerment process will be continued by other private practice or career development coop team members, or rehabilitation or transition professionals. They will provide further training and facilitation in the use of the profile or portfolio in decision-making, vocational/career planning, getting and keeping a job, and monitoring of progress and success. Rehabilitation counselors, school counselors, case managers, teachers, placement specialists, job clubs, and other staff of career development co-ops will help complete the process of empowerment and ensure that the consumer knows how to conduct ongoing self-assessment and career planning as needed.

When using an empowerment-based model of vocational evaluation, the evaluator will begin the orientation by discussing the outcome of employment with the consumer before describing how the evaluation process will help accomplish the individual goal of employment (i.e., begin with the end in mind) (Covey, 1989; Farley et al., 1992). By starting with the outcome issues of choosing, getting, and keeping a job (Farley, Little, Bolton, & Chunn, 1991), consumers will better understand the importance of the evaluation process, which should, in turn, increase their motivation to participate in achieving a personal

career-life goal.

The second direction, community-based assessment (also referred to as situational assessment), will focus on providing realistic, hands-on evaluation opportunities for individuals with multiple and severe disabilities. Assessments will primarily address employment issues, but will also include other community environments utilized by consumers. These may include training and educational environments (e.g., vocational training, schools, colleges), the community (e.g., stores, banks, recreation, medical services), transportation, and living environments (Sitlington et al., 1996). Job, task, and curriculum analysis will be conducted to identify essential functions to be evaluated while consumers are placed in that environment. A dynamic approach to evaluating the potential to learn, adapt to, and function effectively in a variety of settings (Harris, 1991) will offer the evaluator, consumer, employer, teacher, service provider, family, and friends with the information needed to support successful living and enhance quality of life for the consumer with a severe disability. Ecological assessments (Parker & Schaller, 1996) will become commonplace as consumers seek greater access to all facets of society.

In both the career assessment and community-based assessment procedures, evaluators may find it beneficial to engage in work adjustment. This would constitute a return to earlier approaches where vocational evaluation and work adjustment were often linked and considered compatible (Hoffman, 1971; Tenth Institute on Rehabilitation Services, 1972). In situations where adjustment services would complement the evaluation process (e.g., improve career development and readiness), and remuneration for these expanded services is available, evaluators may begin to offer and market both evaluation and adjustment as an enhanced employment readiness package. The VEWAA Task Force on Work Adjustment has recommended that the definition of work adjustment be rewritten, in part, to reflect its role in assisting "individuals in understanding the meaning, value, and demands of work" (Elston, 1997, p. 178), which would support the concurrent use of evaluation and adjustment services.

Reports developed in either service direction will be written in functional language. Although scores and their interpretations will continue to be reported, greater emphasis will be placed on describing the types of accommodations and modifications made in the evaluation process and their impact on performance. Prescriptive recommendations will offer suggestions for similar kinds of modifications and accommodations to learning, living, and working environments that were found useful during the vocational evaluation. Rather than providing abstract measurement descriptions for tests and work samples (e.g., The Mail Sorting Work Sample assesses eye-hand coordination, upper extremity range-of motion, and alpha-numeric' sorting ability), evaluators will rely on more functional descriptions of what is done (e.g., The Mail Sorting Work Sample assesses how quickly and accurately an individual can sort 300 envelopes into 30 slots by name and room number). These content-oriented descriptions add more practical utility to understanding and using the results in planning and placement. Accommodations and interventions can be discussed in relation to their impact on performance of specific work sample tasks and subsequent employment, rather than references to abstract terms that have limited applicability to individual job tasks. Reports will also contain "open-ended recommendations" that emphasize movement up a career ladder. Open-ended recommendations will provide employment options for more immediate follow-through, while offering related long-range career directions and employment suggestions for future planning and consideration by the consumer, well beyond the termination of rehabilitation or transition services.

Advances in Technology

Technology will create many new resources and opportunities for vocational evaluation (McDaniel, Beadles, & McDaniel, 1997; Smith, 1997). This is one of the areas of greatest change for evaluators. Just as "cyber-commuters" are changing the complexion of jobs and the workplace, "cyber-evaluations" will make the service available to a wider populace. Many evaluations will be conducted in a person's home through the use of computers, or in rural agency or community settings where computers with touch screens, interactive capability, and video cameras are available. Evaluators can provide individual or group evaluations, and then conduct staffings through interactive communication systems. In addition, reports can be written and mailed, and consumer profiles developed and implemented electronically. Due to the diversity in populations served and the need to supplement scores with subjective information, computerized assessments will not eliminate the need for evaluators--only enhance it.

The availability of "virtual work samples and situational assessments" will be a natural outgrowth from advancements in human resource selection and technology. Jobs or work environments that are not well suited for assessment using standardized tests or work samples (e.g., positions requiring high level decision-making, communication, and environmental interaction), will be simulated for evaluation purposes through this new technology. Accommodations in learning and performance can be systematically examined to determine the best possible training strategies, work situations, modifications, technology fit, and supports. By creating realistic cyber work environments, career exploration and training can be incorporated into the ongoing process of assessment. Virtual work samples and situational assessments will incorporate a dynamic approach to evaluation (Harris, 1991) that go beyond a static assessment and explore how modifications and adjustments in the activity affect progress and overall outcome.

Computer-based tests, work samples, and simulations will be commonplace. Through the use of revolving "PIN" numbers, or user codes, qualified evaluators will be able to choose the instruments needed for a particular consumer from a secured test bank server on the Internet, on a fee-per-use basis. Standardized tests and interactive work samples can be pulled up and used as they are needed. If telephone line or wireless communication access is unavailable, then the necessary instruments can be downloaded on a laptop computer and taken to a remote location for one-time use.

Upon completion of each instrument, the computer will provide immediate scoring and printouts/profiles of results for both the evaluator and participant; and the score and evaluee demographics will automatically be added to the norm pool on the Internet server where the instruments were obtained. Evaluation results will be merged with local, regional, or national job or training banks (e.g., O-Net, state employment services) for matching, exploration, and determining availability. In those cases where assistive technology, rehabilitation, remediation, or job readiness needs are identified, computer links to appropriate web sites will give the consumer options for addressing the issues and creating a computer-based plan through case management software. Rehabilitation, remediation, and job readiness services can also be provided over a computer in the consumer's home on a flexible, self-paced schedule, with frequent evaluator or counselor contacts to discuss progress.

Assistive technology assessments and tryouts will be fully integrated into the vocational evaluation process (Kaiser & Noll, 1997; Langton & Lown, 1995). This would include the use of computers as 1) assistive technology tools, 2) resource location vehicles, and 3) staffing/consultation mediums with specific rehabilitation engineers or technology centers.

Refined distance learning technology (as currently being applied in telemedicine) will provide the opportunity for individual or group evaluations with consumers in rural areas or in locations where qualified evaluators are unavailable. It will enable more difficult evaluations to be conducted by highly specialized evaluators out of the service area, who have particular expertise in working with a specific type of disability. The location of the evaluator and consumer will no longer be an issue for quality service delivery.

Populations to be Served

Vocational evaluation will continue to serve current populations (e.g., physical and mental disabilities, substance abuse, dual diagnosis, underserved populations, minorities, school-to-work, and welfare-to-work participants). In addition, persons without disabilities will be integrated into private evaluation services that offer in-depth, empowerment-based career assessment and exploration services. The expanding concept of "service tickets" and "voucher systems" will turn the process of choice over to those consumers who rely on state or federal support. As a result, private evaluators and "career development co-ops (or teams)" will sell their services to an increasingly broader market, including consumers without disabilities who desire such a service. Since the average worker will make approximately eight job changes in a lifetime, one every 5-to-5 1/2 years (Gray & Alphonso, 1996), the services provided by vocational/career experts will be in demand by persons with and without disabilities. The use of vocational evaluation will promote full inclusion of individuals with disabilities into society, and ensure that the service will be recognized as having value for everyone.

As previous consumers of vocational rehabilitation services look to climb the next step of the career ladder, requests for reevaluation will increase. Results can be used to update and reactivate profiles and portfolios so that new directions can be explored. Open-ended recommendations will address long-term career plans (i.e., what jobs should be considered now that will prepare the consumer to achieve targeted career goals in the future). As the population ages and retirement from previous jobs is reached, evaluators will be called upon to assist with exploring new career or avocational directions. With people living longer, the interest in and/or financial maintenance of long-term retirement will become an issue for many, causing a rethinking of the need for re-careering. Older workers often experience disabling conditions and age-related impairments that limit functioning in the work place, thus requiring an evaluation of accommodation needs in the current job or new directions for employment (Hursh, 1993). As adults with disabilities grow older, age-related changes are manifested differently (Kaskel & Brown, 1997), and vocational evaluation can provide information relevant to maintaining employment or planning for and finding a new job.

Increasingly, employers will use evaluators in employee selection and promotion, meeting Americans with Disability Act (ADA) assessment requirements, and out-placement. Employee Assistance Programs and practices may hire or subcontract with evaluators to provide assessment to workers who have burned out or are looking for different career opportunities. Vocational evaluators engaged in private practice will achieve success through flexibility and diversity in marketing to all career seekers and changers, business and industry, attorneys, insurance companies, rehabilitation and social service agencies, secondary and post-secondary education institutions and students, and other newly emerging areas and consumer groups.


In any complex society there will always be a need for vocational evaluation and career assessment. Certified evaluators who broaden their market base (especially in marketing directly to consumers with and without disabilities), expand their skills, take advantage of new technologies, and ensure their competitiveness in an open professional marketplace, will find many opportunities for service to all sectors of society. Vocational evaluation has grown to become more flexible and responsive to market changes and trends, and this adaptability will serve evaluators well as future changes become reality. Professionalism and independence is not gained through affiliation with one referral source but through the successful diversification into a variety of other markets.

In some rehabilitation settings, vocational evaluation has experienced a decrease in utilization, while enjoying success in new service arenas. It is the assumption of some practitioners that evaluation no longer has value in an outcome-based rehabilitation movement. To devalue a thorough vocational evaluation, however, is to devalue consumer information gathered and used by other rehabilitation professionals. It will also undermine the provision of other information-based services, such as rehabilitation counseling and career development, that have a direct impact on optimizing opportunities. Decisions that are made without pertinent information are often the result of assumptions and expectations of what is thought to be best for the person, rather than what is factual, realistic, and appropriate. In the future, this type of subjective decision-making is unlikely to be tolerated by people with disabilities.

Vocational evaluators will begin to actively market their roles as vocational/career experts, disability specialists, and educators. They will focus more on community-based services, and on empowerment-based career assessment and development services that teach consumers how to use the information they have learned about themselves to improve career-life satisfaction. Since information is empowering, vocational evaluation will be recognized eventually as a service that has value to anyone seeking such information for career direction or redirection, and improved quality of life. As vocational evaluation gains wider acceptance and use in society, it will receive increased acceptance and use by individuals with disabilities as well.


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Stephen W. Thomas, Ed.D., CVE, CRC, Chair and Professor, Department of Rehabilitation Studies, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina 27858-4353. E-Mail: ThomasS @Mail.ECU.EDU
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Author:Thomas, Stephen W.
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jan 1, 1999
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