In addition to providing employment-focused support, peer specialists also serve as Employment Specialist staff in IPS and other vocational programs. In this role, peer specialists perform the standard supported employment staff duties, while contributing the unique perspective of living with a mental health condition.
Here we offer resources for Employment Specialists with lived experience. We also provide examples from the field.
Resources for Employment Specialists with Lived Experience
Publications about Employment Specialists with Lived Experience
Kern and colleagues describe a project that successfully trained and employed three peers to work as Employment Specialists. The peers had no previous experience working in vocational services, yet demonstrated the required competencies and stayed on the job for four years at the time of publication. Five years later, two of the peers were still providing employment services at this agency (and another was in a different position there).
This brief essay makes the case that peer providers are effective Employment Specialists when qualified and matched to the job, just like anyone else. Once hired, they need the same supervision and fair wage as any Employment Specialist.
Examples from the Field
Baltic Street AEH is a peer-led agency with over 20 years of providing services. The agency participated in a developmental study with our Center and its partner, Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey, to implement IPS supported employment. Because the agency is fully staffed by peers, the study involved training and supporting peer IPS Employment Specialists. Taina Martinez, Baltic's Director of Employment Services, shares that Employment Specialists with lived experience were able to communicate a personal understanding of the challenges faced by IPS participants. By hiring Employment Specialists who had previously used the agency’s employment services, staff could share how they remember "sitting in that very chair," which made them
confident that things would get better for the participants they were supporting. Martinez also points out that staff having similar experiences to their IPS participants created trust and hope. Being in a safe place and not feeling judged allowed IPS participants to let their guard down, share their authentic fears, and move on to competitive employment.
Laurie Mitchell Empowerment and Career Center is a peer-led recovery center with an IPS supported employment team. All IPS staff are peers, including the Team Leader and three Employment Specialists. The IPS Team Leader, Heather Peck, shares that, although the Employment Specialists let participants know that they have lived experience, and talk about daily wellness related to the job search and employment, they do not serve in the role of peer specialist.
Trilogy is behavioral health care agency in Chicago. It has been a long-time learning partner of The IPS Employment Center.
Brad Rosner, a peer specialist (called a CRSS-E) on one of Trilogy's IPS teams, saw an opportunity to provide employment services directly. He talked with his supervisor, and then, stepped up to assume the role of Employment Specialist. He balanced this effort with ongoing work as the team’s CRSS-E. After successfully fulfilling this dual-role, he was promoted to IPS Team Leader. He supervises two Employment Specialists and one peer staff member who is working towards the CRSS-E.
Go to the next section of the online toolkit, which highlights peer-operated programs that provide vocational services
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