A day in the life of an employment support worker

January 18, 2024
We sat down with Ashleigh Rice, an employment support worker at CMHA Toronto, to learn more about the Employment Program and how employment can advance recovery.
The transcript of this conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What is the Employment Program?

The Employment Program assists individuals who self-identify as living with challenges to their mental health and would like to enter or re-enter the workforce. Put plainly, we help people find and maintain employment.

We offer a strength-based delivery approach using the Individual Placement and Support model which focuses on an individual’s strengths, abilities, and interests.  We work together in a collaborative process to ensure service users are part of the planning process from the onset of support.

Together with clients, we work to create an individualized job action plan, help clients make connections to market-level employment opportunities, and support them with resumé development, interview preparation, training and certificate upgrading. We also offer recovery-focused workshops designed to support positive mental health.

The program doesn’t end there – we also provide retention support which includes regular check-ins that address any workplace issues that may come up, income reporting counselling, and regularly revisiting the client’s return-to-work action plan to make sure they’re on track to reach their goals.

What kinds of jobs do clients find through the Employment Program?

It really depends on the client! We work with them and develop a plan based on their experience, skills, education and interests.

I’ve worked with clients in all sorts of roles such as retail, customer service, construction, medical office administration, early childhood education, security, residential support work, legal assistant, and registered practical nurse to name a few.

What’s your role on the Employment Program team?

I’m one of seven employment support workers on the team. We each manage our own caseload of around 30 to 40 clients, guiding clients in their job search and job retention.

We work with clients from initial intake, to helping them find a job, to supporting them so they can excel in their role and in the workplace. We provide outreach into the community, develop strategies to increase employment opportunities, and establish and maintain positive employer relationships.

How do you support your clients once they have a job?

We check in regularly to discuss how things are going at work and with their mental health. I like to say that I’m there for all the good days and bad days. We might talk through a problem they are having or, if they give me permission, I can speak with their manager and together we can come up with a plan to move forward. If things are going well, I might only hear from a client once a month but usually I’m checking in once a week.

How did you get started working as an employment worker?

I’ve been working here at CMHA Toronto for about seven years. I received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and was looking for a way to work in the mental health field. I started as a job coach and was responsible for going to job sites and providing support to clients at their place of work. I would help them with training, provide coaching and any other guidance they may need to succeed at their workplace.

Eventually I moved into my current role as an employment support worker where I assist our clients from intake all the way through to retention, which can last for up to three years.

What’s your favourite part of your role?

My favourite part is being able to help a client secure a job and then hear about the positive impacts that job has on their life.

A client shared with me that her job gave her her self-esteem back. She explained how important and necessary gaining back her sense of self-worth was in her recovery. It was really rewarding to know that my support and the support of the CMHA Toronto Employment Program not only made a positive impact to her employment goals, but also in her recovery journey.

Another highlight of my job is sharing in the joy when a client calls me to let me know that they got the job! I often feel lucky that I’m in a position where I get to witness clients’ successes and achievements.

Why is employment important to long-term recovery?

We know that one of the top social determinants of health is employment. It can provide people with a lot of essentials for good health, such as a sense of purpose, belonging, security, stability, self-esteem, independence, and routine – not to mention the sense of community that comes from working and having colleagues.

There’s also the obvious benefit of employment improving someone’s financial situation and stability which can lead to a better quality of life.

How can clients get involved with the Employment Program?

They can visit our website or email info@cmhato.org. Anyone can self-refer to the program and we’ll work with them to see if we’re a fit for what they are looking for.

And what about businesses and workplaces who want to get involved with the Employment Program? 

Business and workplaces can go on our website and reach out to our team. We can put forward clients who have the skills, experience and interests that businesses are looking for. We’re always looking to partner with workplaces that value diversity and inclusion.

What’s one thing you wished people know about mental health?

Issues with mental health can happen to anyone. I think if people were aware that almost everyone, at some point in their life, will experience a mental health challenge, mental health would be treated with more compassion and understanding. Ailing mental health deserves the same degree of care, treatment, and medical coverage as ailing physical health.

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