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Rebuilding Lives: The Underutilized Path of Vocational Education After Injury

Burdine & Brown Feb. 15, 2024

Recently I wrote a blog about the frustration of trying to get my seriously injured clients to go to tech school and learn a new trade, start a new career and get away from the heavy work labor market where all they do is lifting, carrying, twisting, stooping, loads with 20-100 lbs. all day long. You cannot do this kind of work forever. Goodness, you cannot do this type of heavy work for about 10-15 years before you experience back pain at best and a job injury involving a herniated disc at the worst.

If one finished high school or even stopped at 11th grade, tech school is still a great option for such a person.

Mike Rowe, the creator of the highly successful TV Program, “Dirty Jobs” has been a constant advocate for vocational tech school and the jobs one can move into with a voc. tech education. Essentially, he says that the one year of tech school tuition at $5,000, and a graduation and placement rate of about 90% in jobs that start at $60,000 to $70,000 is quite doable. Why don’t more people pursue tech school after an injury on the job or an automobile accident? Most people want to get right back into the earning a living mode. They cannot afford to stay out of work and re-educate. That certainly is short term thinking.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, dated January 17, 2024, talks about how difficult it is for college graduates and master level educated young people to find a job after graduation.

One of the young people who was interviewed said she applied for 10 jobs and was out of work 8 months looking for a suitable job. AND, the cost of her education was over $200,000. That is a nice debt to acquire going into your first job after college!

Tech school is so much cheaper and a job at the end of the schooling is so much easier to find. There are a number of businesses who work directly with vocational schools, so the tech school teaches the exact skills needed by the business.

Yet, it is terribly frustratingly hard to convince my injured clients to go to tech school after a serious job injury.

What seems to be happening is that my clients have decided to return to work, to a job that may aggravate their recovery. This causes another injury to occur. Now my client has an aggravated disability and less likelihood that a return to further work is even possible.

The insurance company fights the case even harder, knowing they could be left with greater expenses for medical and in terms of payment disability benefits.

The sad news is that prior to 1992, vocational rehabilitation was mandatory and an expense of every insurance company, if the workers were determined NOT to be able to return to the old job after 90 days from the date of the injury. I helped to put many of my clients into many tech schools with that program. The insurance companies paid for tuition, mileage, books and lunches for the 6 months to 2 years of school. (Of course, the injury had to be serious).

Well, why don’t we have mandatory vocational rehabilitation now? The answer is simple. The insurance lobbyist went to the legislature and argued the cost of Voc. Rehab. was too expensive and that the employer’s premiums would sky-rocket. So, the legislature just wrote Voc. Rehab. OUT of the Law, just like that.

Now, we have a whole group of seriously injured workers who have no incentive to return to schooling due to the hardships associated with such a change in careers and who cannot afford schooling. What a shame.