How WISE Ways to Work Prepares Participants for the Workforce

WISE Ways to Work (WWtW), a six-month vocational rehabilitation program delivered by WISE Employment, aims to help people living with a mental illness develop skills and confidence to enter, or re-enter, the work force.

Photo of Ellen, smiling at the camera. She is wearing a black shirt with white polka dots, a silver necklace and has her hair out. The program has a strong focus on improving participants’ cognitive/thinking skills. This includes strengthening memory, concentration, planning, prioritising, and communication. Building these skills helps empower participants to reach their vocational goals whether study, paid employment, or volunteering.

WISE Ways to Work has recently concluded its pilot phase which was run out of the North Melbourne WISE office. Preparing to transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), the program will be able to assist many more people living with a psychosocial disability to achieve both their career and personal goals.

Occupational Therapist and Vocational Coach, Ellen Strochnetter, explains the WISE Ways to Work program, how she started with the WWtW team, the achievements made, and how they celebrate participants’ success.

Ellen started with the WWtW team in March 2018. Her strong background as a disability support worker along with her interest in pursuing a career in the mental health sector complemented the job position well.

 “I knew I wanted to work in the mental health area. The job ad really captured me because it was clear WISE Employment was trying out innovative strategies… It showed a program was looking to provide support to a cohort of people who were out there, but not getting much in the way of services at the time,” says Ellen.

In addition, the chance to help participants with a mental illness enhance their thinking and social skills was another draw-card for Ellen. As far as she knew, there were no other vocational rehabilitation programs in Victoria that focused on improving cognitive skills for work.

Because of the need for individualisation, WWtW staff need to be flexible in their approaches to helping participants.

“Like a lot of disabilities, mental health doesn’t discriminate. It can be unpredictable, so our services need to be flexible too. To get the best response we need to work with the participants’ availability, including the time of day, where to meet and the people in the room. All these factors will help people to get back into work.”

 Because of this flexibility, no two work days are the same for Ellen.

“An average day includes facilitating group sessions with our participants through the ‘Employ Your Mind’ and ‘Optimal Health Program’. We  have one-on-one sessions with them, which are mainly about building individualised career strategies and coaching participants towards these goals. We might visit our participants at our partner employers’ offices, catching up with both parties to look at ways we can improve performance. Also we conduct workplace assessments to ensure the working environment is safe and suitable for the participant.”

The participants are always rewarded for their work with celebrations at the end of each stage. This includes group graduation ceremonies where participants are recognised for their achievements and presented with certificates, including by WISE Employment CEO, Matthew Lambelle.

Photo of WWtW employees, Terry and Kez, playing Jenga. Some Jenga blocks have words such as "problem solving", "attention" and "Thinking speed" written on them to show building your mind.A recent success story for WWtW is a participant who started with the program straight after being discharged from hospital after a severe episode of mental illness. The team guided and helped the participant to recognise their skills and interests while developing organisation and time management skills they will use in the next step of their vocational journey.

“For someone who had really hit rock bottom to recognise their qualities, values and interests along with finding industries which related to these qualities is amazing.”

The participant has now gone back to study towards a career in an industry of interest.

With the outbreak of COVID-19 changing how we communicate, WWtW has found ways to ensure participants receive the help they need while practicing social distancing.

“COVID-19 has resulted in a number of flare-ups of mental ill health. To help, we’ve increased our social and mental health support to participants. We’ve created a telepractice procedure to catch up with participants one-on-one, online, and continue to provide elements of the program with adequate support.”

Access to the right technology has played a large role in this transition. WWtW program materials and the online ‘thinking gym’ have been adjusted for access from home. Ellen and the WWtW team have helped their clients adapt and access this technology so no one is left behind.

 “Everything we do face-to-face; we have found there’s a way to do it through telepractice. We’re also working on our first group Zoom social catch-up!”

With the conclusion of the pilot, the team are now turning their attention to transitioning the program to NDIS. The priority is ensuring people with a mental illness have access to an evidence-based, vocational rehabilitation program to assist them in achieving their vocational goals.

Ellen believes the accessibility of the program is critical, as all of us in the community understand the benefit of working on our thinking skills.

 “It’s just great we’re able to provide this opportunity for the most vulnerable in the community.”

To find out more about WISE Ways to Work, click here.




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