What is a Vocational Evaluator? – Part One

By Dr. Ken Manges, Ph.D. | Forensic Psychologist

Vocational evaluators are asked to assess persons who

  • Have a desire to enter the workforce or change jobs/careers.
  • Evaluate the disabled worker seeking to return to the workforce post injury.
  • Determine the earning potential of an infant or child who has no work history.
  • Evaluate the spouse or homemaker returning to the workforce post divorce.

Each referral results in a different set of challenges. Each of these potential referrals to the vocational evaluator offers both known and unknown assets and liabilities for a prospective employer. The vocational evaluator takes these assets and liabilities, that is, the person’s different strengths and weaknesses, including but not limited to their gender, age, education and experience into account. The procedure may vary depending on the vocational evaluator’s training, but the guiding principle is to consider scientific theory and practice by applying a pre-determined procedure. The goal is similar for each referral, which is to determine how a specific constellation of unique factors impacts the person’s ability to do work. Each of the factors (gender, age, education, experience and disability) presents themselves as a different set of challenges depending on different circumstances. For instance, the older less educated, but more highly experienced worker, may have access to fewer jobs because of the physical demands of the work tasks themselves. Generally speaking the younger, more educated, but not necessarily more experienced worker, has greater access to available jobs in a given industry at any given time.

A vocational evaluation is an objective and standardized measure of a person’s capacity to perform work. Some of the uses of a vocational evaluation include:

  • To measure an individual’s strengths and weaknesses post injury.
  • To assess a person’s ability to do different occupations.
  • To measure the earnings in a spousal support or wrongful death action for an infant or non-wage earner.

When the person being referred is disabled, the challenge to the vocational evaluator is compounded by the task of having to search for post injury jobs where the specific disability can be accommodated. In the best of situations the (American with Disabilities Act) ADA makes a difference. In reality, the ADA may not be a consideration due to exceptions to the law. As you might suspect, disabled persons represent multiple challenges. A disabled person loses access to jobs based on their level of impairment, their age, their prior education, their “mental flexibility” post injury, and the interference from the physical, as well as psychological barriers imposed by themselves or the work environment. Although the job availability to the disabled becomes narrower post injury, this does not mean post injury placement is impossible. In summary, when an injury results in a disability, the worker’s intellectual and academic functioning along with their interests, traits and emotional functioning, as well as their response to their pain and/or disfigurement, can be points of consideration in the evaluation process.

This is not to say every injury results in a disability and not every disability results in pain or psychological impairment. Rather, when an injury does result in a disability there may be additional considerations to be reckoned with as a consequence of the disability’s impact on the injured person e.g. what limitations does the injury pose on return or entry into the workforce. The task assigned to the vocational evaluator is typically posed as follows: “what employment or self employment is reasonably attainable in light of the individual’s age, education, previous occupation, and (or) injury and which offers an opportunity to restore the individual as soon as practical and nearly as possible to their average weekly earnings at the time of their injury (or restricted participation in employment).” (CFR404.49). However, this is not as straightforward as it may seem. Finding an occupation that satisfies the person’s age, education, previous occupation and injury which affords an opportunity to earn equivalent wages to pre-injury levels does not necessarily mean that the job will satisfy the person’s personality and interests.

Given that injured persons may not have choices that non-injured persons have, and that the various economic pressures on the disabled person may be significant, placement in a job that satisfies most of the injured worker’s “profile” may be the best of the worse scenario. Finding an occupation can be a first step. Subsequent steps may include finding an employer who has a job and will accept the disabled worker. In some instances maintaining the worker at their old job with transportation and or specialized supervision are additional challenges to the vocational evaluator’s final analysis. Workers who lose their job due to injury may suffer a loss of seniority and benefits. When the injured person returns to the workforce they may have obstacles to their marketability and employability, as well as an diminished work life expectancy.

Work loss access is not in direct proportion to an injury. Rather, the equation is much more complicated: injury +/- age, education, gender, experience, motivation, interests, aptitude, intelligence, achievement level and worker traits, equals access to work. Another important issue for vocational evaluations is a person’s transferability of skills. Look for Part II of this Vocational Primer Series for a discussion of Transferability.

Dr. Kenneth Manges - Forensic Psychologist and Vocational expert

Dr. Kenneth Manges is a Forensic Psychologist and vocational expert who offers consultation and comprehensive evaluations. His analyses have been recognized for their clarity and scientific rigor. He offers reasonably certain opinions about the psychological impact of physical injury or emotional trauma as they affect earning capacity and the impact of loss on future work and quality of life. Well regarded in the litigation arena, he is a trusted and respected authority and offers evaluations that have been consistently upheld in both state and federal courts.