Vocational Guidance Services
Vocational Guidance Services provides vocational rehabilitation training and paid work opportunities each year to nearly 4,500 individuals with physical or mental disabilities, a history of incarceration or other barriers to employment. President and CEO Bob Comben says, “I’ve always been convinced that paid real-world work experience is the key to genuine vocational rehabilitation.”
Vocational Rehabilitation: Real-World Work Experience is the Key
Vocational Guidance Services (VGS), a pioneer in vocational training for individuals with disabilities and other barriers to employment for over 123 years, is one of the largest vocational rehabilitation services providers in Ohio. It serves over 4,500 individuals with employment barriers annually, placing over 500 individuals each year into competitive employment at sites throughout 26 counties. While that is half as many placements as VGS was achieving prior to the Great Recession, it’s still an impressive statistic considering that it works with individuals that some in our community have mistakenly deemed unemployable. “One hundred percent of the individuals we serve face some barrier to employment—whether it be a physical or mental disability, past substance abuse, a lifetime of poverty, or a history of incarceration,” says Bob Comben, President & CEO. “In fact, most of the individuals we serve have multiple barriers to employment.”
To create jobs and job opportunities, Comben reports that VGS staff all have “a mission focused-sales mindset.” They are continually looking for opportunities to expand programs and gain new customers for VGS’ work opportunities, since growth in those enterprises means more job opportunities for individuals who would otherwise remain on the employment sidelines. VGS staff also work vigorously to find employment partners out in the community who will give their job training graduates an opportunity to prove that barriers can be overcome and let their abilities shine. Meanwhile, to prepare the individuals they serve for success on the job, VGS emphasizes real-world work experience. “The classroom experience is extremely important,” Comben says, “but it’s not enough. To be able to fully prepare the individuals we serve for employment, we provide them with “earning while learning” paid work opportunities. This is to ensure that what we go over in the classroom can be put right to use and will become a tool in their employment toolbox.”
VGS has developed additional social enterprises in the 21st century to ensure that its mission of preparing people with barriers to employment for a brighter future is maximized. “We sew 100 percent of the dress pants for women in the U.S. Army, Navy and Marines.” Comben reports. “We provide custodial services to more than 100 area businesses, we supply a large glue gun manufacturer with a variety of products, we inspect parts that are used by the Chrysler Corporation, and much more. If you have work that needs to be done we know a lot of individuals who would love to have the opportunity to show you what they can do.” VGS’ campus also boasts the Second Glance Thrift Store and the Guidance Grill luncheon café. Through these and other enterprises, in 2012 VGS employed 1,517 individuals who would have otherwise not had the opportunity to earn a paycheck.
Some of the individuals that VGS serves have the most significant of disabilities and fulltime employment might not be a short term outcome; the services these individuals are provided focus on their vocational goals and an individualized plan is developed to help them achieve their brighter futures. Comben says, “Our goal is provide each individual with the skills and training that will enable them to achieve their own successes.” The process begins with measuring each individual’s strengths and assessing what is needed in order to accomplish that person’s vocational goals. The individual then follows through the right menu of program services for them. These may include specialized skills training or work experience assignments where participants gain on-the-job experience. In 2012 VGS changed lives and strengthened the community by providing 910,314 hours of work experience, training and employment opportunities to individuals with disabilities or other barriers to employment.