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Horizontal Expansion of the Role of the Rehabilitation Counselor.

The United States labor market is undergoing rapid change as part of the global economy. New paradigm shifts are occurring that will shake traditional notions about how people earn a living and participate in the world of work. Corporate perceptions and expectations of the labor force are changing as the corporate world becomes focused on international competition and profits that ensure survival.

The authors believe that the profession of rehabilitation counseling has the potential to play an important role in this new environment, but the profession must engage in serious soul searching that may challenge current role definition. If the profession is to remain relevant, it must become less orthodox and see the future as a challenge that includes expansion of our traditional role and function. Over-specialization is a detriment in the new environment. However, if rehabilitation counselors develop a broader approach, they will have much to offer business and industry.

Although rehabilitation counseling has been identified as providing specific services to people with disabilities, the rehabilitation counselor's knowledge, skills, and service delivery are comprehensive and applicable to almost any group, including people who do not meet the definition of having a disability. The authors believe that the marketability of rehabilitation counselors will suffer in the future if they remain niche players serving a single, identified population. Corporate America is not likely to hire rehabilitation counselors who focus only on disability issues; corporate America is more likely to hire rehabilitation counselors who use a broader service approach geared to increase productivity of the labor force in general.

Labor market changes are occurring both demographically (i.e. fewer white males, more women and minorities, decreasing population of younger workers) and structurally (i.e., service versus manufacturing, technology including robotics, deregulation, corporate mergers, downsizing, global teams, Internet, outsourcing, and increased competition) (Goldstein, 1996). Additional issues impacting today's labor force include corporate firings, decentralization, legalism and litigation, morale, child and elder care, work place revenge by the disenfranchised, work place bias, creative benefits, quality of work life, job redesign, and need for flexibility and adaptational skills. These changes are so substantial that they may be considered a paradigm shift.

Ferguson suggested that "a paradigm shift involves dislocation, conflict, confusion, and uncertainty. New paradigms are nearly always perceived with coolness, even mockery or hostility. Those with vested interest fight the change. The shift demands such a different view of things that established leaders are often the last to be won over, if at all." The paradigm shift in the labor market will undoubtedly evoke similar responses. For example, there will be strong resistance on the part of workers directly affected, as well as a host of other players including professionals who share the responsibility of helping others adapt to changes.

Changes that will revolutionize where and how rehabilitation counselors work include, among others, the concept of a placeless society. The placeless society is defined as a world of everything and everybody being at once everywhere (Knoke, 1996). According to Knoke (1996), we are already seeing the beginning signs: banks that serve any customer from any branch, grocery chains that know the minute-by-minute sales of any cash register in any store, and airlines that electronically link hundreds of thousands of retail travel offices into its flight schedules and tariffs.

The success of any organization will fundamentally depend on its people. While the mechanical aspects, such as the computers and the transportation systems, can often be changed overnight, the human element displays much more inertia. If individuals fail to grasp the usefulness of the new tools, the tools lose their potency. According to Peterson (1996), computer literacy is now a requirement for the modem worker. But only one out of ten high school dropouts uses computers on the job, compared with two out of three college graduates. Workers must now adapt quickly to constantly evolving technologies, management techniques, and production know-how that demand good reading and math skills, and the ability to communicate orally and in writing.

But technology is not going to wait until people are ready for it. Within the next ten years, we will start to see substantial shifts in how and where we work, the companies we work for, and the places we choose to live (Gates, 1996). Many successful companies are internationalizing themselves. Given a global market, competition among firms; whether automobile producers, aircraft manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, makers of computer hardware or publishing houses; is driving them to sell and produce in all the major economic regions of the world (Kennedy, 1993).

Additional changes include mergers. In the United States between 1987 and 1989, 2,730 publicly quoted firms with an aggregate value of $860 billion were acquired by takeover (Bootle, 1996). Mergers and other organizational changes often lead to downsizing of the workforce. During 1993, for example, corporations such as IBM, Boeing, United Technologies, and Procter & Gamble all saw their stocks rise significantly faster than the Standard & Poors 500 index after making layoff announcements during the year totaling more than 100,000 jobs (Hood, 1996).

Morale and worker alienation leading to lower productivity and increased health problems often occurs in response to these workplace changes. According to Galbraith (1996), workers who live in fear of downsizing are not the healthiest of people. Others posit that the negative effects on employees resulting from takeovers involve a breach of trust between the employer and employee. This breach of trust, they argue, may have detrimental long-term effects on the firm's efficiency.

Labor unions have been unable to influence these changes in a meaningful way because of the virtual collapse of union power. According to Bootle (1996), the weakening of labor's bargaining position due to technological changes has gone hand-in-hand with the weakening of labor unions. Union shops lose business to more competitive non-union upstarts, and technology has reduced plant size and eased relocation. According to Knoke (1996), today a machine part can be made abroad by any of a thousand vendors as easily as it can be made locally. Thus, where unions had previously presented a serious problem, they are now largely emasculated. Furthermore, the decentralization of manufacturing to hundreds of subcontractors in scores of countries makes it hard for unions to identify a target and organize. The phenomenal changes reshaping the workplace demand that traditional ideas regarding job analysis and job descriptions be revisited. According to Hammer (1996), the industrial revolution created the modem worker as we understand that individual: a person who performs a particular task according to a more or less fixed set of roles. Worker performance is assessed in the narrow perspective of that task. While task specialization improved task productivity dramatically, it also fragmented processes beyond recognition. In such a task-centered world, process falls through the cracks.

Self-organization, however, focuses on process. Self-organization is a continuing process of adaptation in a real-time world of global business, with technologies, markets and relationships emerging and disappearing amid a fury of instant communication. Organizations function like amoebae that flow with the environment and constantly reshape themselves. Successful manufacturing companies exposed to the rapidly changing world of technology have realized the importance of designing modular processes, so that an individual piece can change as new technologies that affect it evolve, without throwing all the pieces into disarray. These same companies have also learned to design inherently expandable or contractible systems that minimize specificity to any one activity and that are easily upgraded. While in some cases these design features result in somewhat higher up-front costs, these costs are a small price for the flexibility and the option of being able to incorporate new information as it becomes available. Moreover, self-organization will free employees to act like bosses. Finally, self-organization will not succumb to program- of-the-month syndrome for the simple reason that it is a process, not a program (Petzinger 1997).

The above suggests only some of the changes for which workers and professionals must prepare if they are to be active participants in the labor market of the 21st century. In addition, employers are attempting to increase their profit margins because of the rapidly changing business climate. Thus, employers downsize and streamline to eliminate any unnecessary or redundant services. This elimination of services could include the services provided by rehabilitation counselors. It is the authors' belief that the services offered by rehabilitation counselors in the areas of disability management, job development and placement, and worker's compensation are the types of services that are vulnerable in today's economic conditions and business climate. These types of services will be consolidated and will be provided by one broad-based organizational consultant. This consultant's comprehensive services could include job design, work flow, organizational structure, and disability-related issues.

The main purpose of this paper is to encourage rehabilitation counselors to horizontally expand their interaction with employers. It is the authors' belief that in order for rehabilitation counselors to horizontally expand their role with companies and organizations, rehabilitation counselors will need to change their overall approach to employers and organizations by broadening the application of their knowledge to non-disability related areas within organizations and by incorporating new areas of knowledge into their training.

First, this paper will review both traditional and demand-side job development approaches to competitive employment. Second, the paper will reemphasize that currently, the demand-side approach to job development meets the needs of the present-day employer and business world and allows rehabilitation counselors to horizontally expand their role within industry. Finally, after reviewing both the traditional and demand-side models, the authors will briefly discuss areas in which rehabilitation counselors can apply their knowledge to function as consultants to businesses and organizations. The authors believe that staffing and work and job design are areas in which rehabilitation counselors can provide valuable consultation services to employers and organizations.

Review of Job Placement Models

Traditional Approaches

Traditional models of job placement can be arranged into one of the following four categories: 1) placement provided by the vocational rehabilitation counselor; 2) placement provided by a specialized placement professional; 3) contracted placement services; and 4) supported employment services (Gilbride, Stensrud, & Johnson, 1994). The first model, placement services provided by the rehabilitation counselor, is probably the most established approach to placement and has traditionally been used in both the state-federal and private rehabilitation systems (Gilbride, Stensrud, & Johnson, 1994).

The second traditional model of job placement involves the use of an individual whose sole function is the placement of individuals with disabilities. Individuals who endorse this model believe that an individual who is exclusively working with individuals in an effort to help them obtain employment will be more effective than general rehabilitation counselors.

The third model, contracted placement services, includes programs such as Projects With Industry (PWI). These programs are designed to bring the placement process closer to the employer. In addition, they emphasize the development of a cooperative relationship between employers and rehabilitation professionals.

Supported employment is the fourth traditional model of job placement and is unique from the three previously discussed in that supported employment does not emphasize prerequisite employment and job seeking skills. Instead, this model focuses on post-placement job training, workplace integration, and ongoing job support (Hanley- Maxwell, Bordieri, & Merz, 1996).

Traditional placement models have three elements in common. First, all of the models focus on providing services to individuals with disabilities. Second, they typically focus on one individual and one job. In some cases, the models may involve a placement specialist or rehabilitation counselor working with an employer to identify several jobs within a company that the employer has found difficult to fill with reliable employees. In these cases, the rehabilitation counselor or placement specialist may work with an employer to identify qualified individuals with disabilities who would be able to fill those jobs. The rehabilitation counselor or placement specialist usually contacts the employer and tries to market the idea that individuals with disabilities are reliable employees and that constant job turnover is not cost-effective. A third and final element of the traditional placement models is that the rehabilitation counselor or placement specialist only has contact with the employer regarding the placement of a specific individual.

Often, working within the traditional model or paradigm, the rehabilitation counselor or placement specialist is not aware of the organizational structure, how work is distributed, or the economic factors that affect an employer's profits and viability. The authors posit that this limited view makes the traditional models inadequate. Moreover, these traditional models will fail to meet the needs of employers or rehabilitation counselors in today's economic environment and in future years.

Demand-Side Job Placement

Gilbride and Stensrud (1992) suggest that the central focus of demand-side job development is to assist employers in meeting their labor needs by employing individuals with disabilities. The goals of the demand-side job development model are to increase the number and types of positions that individuals with disabilities obtain and to assist employers in developing an effective recruitment strategy for individuals with disabilities. The model implies that not only should services be provided to individuals with disabilities, but also services should be provided to enhance the environments in which people with disabilities work (Gilbride & Stensrud).

Gilbride and Stensrud indicate the that demand-side job development approach is made up of the following nine components: 1) increasing demand; 2) consultative approach; 3) employer need focus; 4) job focused; 5) private funding; 6) on-going consultation; 7) service is imperative; 8) financial bottom line; and 9) universal help. A detailed discussion of each of these components can be found in Gilbride and Stensrud (1992). At this point the authors would like to highlight several components of this model. These particular components make the model progressive, and, thus, increase the role of the rehabilitation counselor in meeting the overall needs of the employer.

First, according to the demand-side job development model, rehabilitation professionals are called upon to develop a consultative approach and to assist employers in meeting human resource needs (Gilbride & Stensrud, 1992). Specifically, rehabilitation professionals will be called upon to play a role in organizational development and to determine how work will be done, in essence focusing on workflow design. Because of the economic trends listed previously, employers are going to be looking for consultants who provide comprehensive employment services and are knowledgeable about work design, staffing issues, disability, workers' compensation, and organizational design. An individual who has expertise in all of these areas will have a greater chance of surviving, while providing a value-added service to the company. Individuals who are one-dimensional, or niche players, will more likely be viewed as too specialized and not cost-effective.

Second, the demand-side job development model focuses on employer needs. Many times rehabilitation professionals are unaware or unconcerned with the employer's needs. According to the demand-side job development model, rehabilitation professionals must possess an understanding of the company and how the work is done within that company (Gilbride & Stensrud, 1992). Focusing on employer needs relates to another component, providing ongoing consultation, in that it stresses the importance of the rehabilitation counselor's awareness of the employer's needs. Thus, the rehabilitation counselor is forced to horizontally expand his or her contact with employers and organizations.

A third component unique to the demand-side model is private funding. With the demand-side job development approach, all the services provided are paid for directly by the employer or company. The authors fully agree with Gilbride and Stensrud (1992) who assert that employers are accustomed to and are willing to pay for consultation services if the services add value and contribute to increased company production and profits. Marketing rehabilitation services is done in limited circles such as private sector rehabilitation. It is the authors' belief that in an atmosphere of smaller government, decentralization, and privatization, state and federal vocational rehabilitation programs will experience significant changes during the next five years. These changes may result in staff reductions that will require rehabilitation counselors to market themselves to employers and to document the cost effectiveness and value-added nature of their services. The need for qualified rehabilitation counselors will not shrink, but it will undergo a significant change. Rehabilitation counselors will be required to obtain and sustain private funding for their services if they expect to remain viable.

Finally, in the demand-side job development approach, the goal is to improve the financial position of the company. This goal is important because, unless companies are profitable and expanding, they will eventually lose their competitiveness and fail. Gilbride and Stensrud (1992) indicate that rehabilitation counselors must be aware and respectful of the employer's need to make sufficient profit to stay in business. Profitability is especially important in our current, dynamic economy that demands that employers expend more and more resources to remain competitive in the market. It will be important for rehabilitation counselors to become aware and stay abreast of current economic developments and their impact on companies and businesses. By horizontally expanding their contact with employers, rehabilitation counselors who are able to apply their knowledge of staffing and work-related issues will be able to assist companies in meeting the economic changes that they are facing. In this era of downsizing and reengineering, services and positions that do not contribute to the overall profit of a company will be eliminated or consolidated.

The authors believe that the demand-side approach to job development will encourage rehabilitation counselors to expand their role and contacts with companies. Despite the model's potential, the literature and contacts with the rehabilitation community do not report that the demand-side model for placement has been widely applied in the field. The demand-side approach to job development provides the rehabilitation counselor with the opportunity to horizontally expand their services to meet the overall needs of the employer. Gilbride and Stensrud (1992) developed the conceptual model of the demand-side approach; however, they did not specify the areas in which rehabilitation counselors could broaden their consultation with industry. In the next section, the authors will focus on areas of staffing and job and work design as two major areas in which rehabilitation counselors could provide consultative services to employers.

Areas of Consultation


An essential function of an employer is staffing. In staffing, employers manage and control the movement of workers within the company or organization through the process of selection, staff training and development, and provision of support services to current employees (Millington, et al., 1996; Smith, 1983). Companies view labor as a capital investment and are willing to direct money and resources into staffing. Progressive rehabilitation counselors who are able to apply the demand-side job development approach could be a tremendous asset to employers as they attempt to meet their staffing needs. This contact with business and industry represents one horizontal expansion of the role of rehabilitation counselors. Staffing is a comprehensive term that refers to selection, training and development, and employee support (Millington, et al., 1996).

The explicit goal of the employee selection process is to identify and hire individuals who have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the jobs within the organization successfully. The final decision about who is hired is significantly influenced by the employer's judgment of how well the candidates will fit into the organization and share its perceived values. To ensure that the selection process identifies individuals who are qualified to perform the job and who share the common values of the company, the organizational personnel responsible for the selection of new employees may undergo extensive training in employee selection. Companies such as Proctor & Gamble use lecture, videotapes, films, practice interviews, and role plays to teach interviewers how to identify applicants who will successfully fit into the company (Robbins, 1997). The selection process can be broken down into the following four stages: identification of tasks, recruitment, screening, and hiring or promotion (Mathsis & Jackson, 1991; Millington et al., 1996). (A more detailed discussion regarding the four stages of the hiring process can be found in Millington et al., 1996). Thus, the selection process should result in the hiring of an individual whose values are congruent with those of the organization and who can perform the job (Robbins, 1997).

Staff training and employee support are two other services which would allow rehabilitation counselors to expand their contact with business. Training can be defined as a learning process in which people acquire the skills or knowledge to aid in the achievement of goals (Mathsis & Jackson, 1991). The training process can take many different forms and is typically described by the content, such as basic skills or job related skills (Millington, et al. 1996). In addition, employees are now receiving continuous training opportunities.

Employee assistance programs (EAPs), originally implemented to provide services to employees with alcohol or drug problems, have been broadened to assist employees with emotional, family, and financial problems (Davis, 1991; Hanley-Maxwell, Bordieri, & Merz, 1996). According to Desmond (1985), the main purpose of EAPs is to help employees who are no longer functioning at acceptable performance levels due to alcohol or drug problems or emotional distress. In addition to EAPs, organizations implemented wellness and stress management programs in response to the rising cost of health care.

Job and Work Design

Jobs are dynamic; they are changing more quickly than in the past because of the globalization of the economy and advances in technology. When jobs are changing so quickly, employers are constantly attempting to ensure that work design leads to efficient and productive outcomes. In order to ensure that jobs are keeping pace with economic developments, there are several strategies that organizations employ in the design of work. Job enlargement, job rotation, job enrichment, task revision, telecommuting, and alternative work patterns are all strategies that employers are implementing to enhance the job, to maximize performance, and to provide workers with more options and flexibility (Herzberber, 1968; Nelson & Quick, 1996). Rehabilitation counselors who are aware of these strategies and are able to provide effective consultation regarding these issues will increase their own value and worth to employers. (A more detailed discussion regarding these strategies can be found in Nelson and Quick, 1996).


With the labor market undergoing rapid change as part of the global economy and the proposed horizontal expansion of the role of the rehabilitation counselor, the authors contend that the following three recommendations are important if the profession of rehabilitation counseling is going to remain viable.

First, as a profession, we must examine the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE) educational standards specifically as they relate to vocational and career development (C.2.4.) and job development and placement (C.2.6.). It is the authors' opinion that the standards outlined do not adequately address these two areas because they are not comprehensive; they do not sufficiently incorporate the bodies of knowledge related to organizational behavior and management. One only has to look at the literature in organizational behavior, human resource management, and business management to realize that rehabilitation counselors are not the only professionals conducting job analyses and assisting companies with ADA issues. In fact, most organizations view these activities as a function of human resource management. In order for rehabilitation counselors to become competitive in the future, CORE should consider expanding the educational standards (C.2.4. and C.2.6.) to include topics such as disability management, staffing (specifically employee recruitment and selection), work motivation, organizational culture, psychological effects of unemployment, human resource management, economics, and job design.

Second, the roles and functions of rehabilitation counselors need to be compared to the roles and functions other professionals outside the field of counseling and social work, such as human resource managers, industrial organizational psychologists, and professional managers who are involved in organizational behavior and job design. This assessment will help rehabilitation counselors obtain a clear and accurate understanding of how rehabilitation counseling compares to other professions outside of counseling and human services. Rehabilitation counseling may be unique in the small world of counseling and human services, but if it becomes more attuned to current practice we will observe other professionals engaging in activities that rehabilitation counselors thought were unique to their profession. The authors argue that this comparison will allow rehabilitation counselors to see a great deal of potential for the application of their skills to areas outside of traditional rehabilitation counseling. This comparison will also address areas in which rehabilitation counselor education needs to expand or strengthen its curriculum. These educational changes will be critical as state and federal programs are faced with shifts in funding and with the prospects of downsizing or reorganizing service delivery. Rehabilitation counselors must be able to apply their knowledge to assist people with and without disabilities.

Third, rehabilitation counseling programs need to expand their student recruitment efforts to include students who have undergraduate degrees in human resources, organizational behavior, business, and management. The authors believe that the business knowledge that these students may bring to programs, coupled with the counseling skills they would acquire, would make them effective in working with organizations and people with disabilities.


The purpose of this article is to emphasize to the rehabilitation counseling profession that, given the changing state of the economy and business practices, along with smaller government and decentralized social services, the profession is faced with significant challenges and changes in the future. Consequently, rehabilitation counselors must be willing to horizontally expand their roles if they are to stay viable in the next century. In addition, the authors believe that the horizontal expansion of the rehabilitation counselor's role and function will also increase the attractiveness of the profession and increase the number of applications to rehabilitation counseling education programs throughout the country.


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William Jenkins, Ed.D., CRC, University of Memphis, Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Research, Campus Box 526010, Memphis, TN 38152-6010.
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Author:Strauser, David R.
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jan 1, 1999
Previous Article:Enabling America: Assessing the Role of Rehabilitation Science and Engineering.
Next Article:Vocational Evaluation in the 21st Century: Diversification and Independence.

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