"In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity." Albert Einstein


Most injured workers I meet enjoyed the job they were doing when they were injured. They find it very difficult at first to even think about a new career after a serious work accident leaving them with permanent work restrictions. A 45- year-old union carpenter with a good-paying job usually has no idea what he wants to be retrained to do when he suddenly finds that he will never be able to work again as a carpenter. He didn't plan to fall 30 feet from a scaffold, fracturing his right wrist and herniating two discs in his lower back. While recovering from his surgeries, he kept hoping that he would be able to work again as a carpenter, and he was reluctant to ask his doctor if should be thinking about a different line of work. Before he knows it, his doctor releases him with permanent work restrictions, and he is now faced with a choice of going through a retraining program or receiving a sum of money to go away and find work on his own.


Few injured workers view retraining as an opportunity, and that is understandable. However, once you are put in the position of having to be retrained in order to become employable again, you must change your thinking. Attending school, learning new skills, and continuing to juggle the bills while receiving compensation benefits is hard. Envisioning retraining as an opportunity for a new life that makes the best of a horrible life-changing injury is even harder, but this change in thinking is essential for your successful re-employment.


I like to have my clients start thinking about a plan B and plan C immediately, because injured workers only have 60 days to come up with a plan for retraining after they get permanent work restrictions and are assigned to work with a vocational rehabilitation counselor. While we focus on getting the best medical care so that an injured worker can return to their old job (plan A), we also talk about the possibility of that not happening. The place to start with this line of thinking is to spend some time day dreaming about your ideal job. What is it that you like to do with your free time? What are your hobbies? What was it about your old job that you liked the best? What part of your old job were you better at than anyone else? If you could have anyone else's job, what would it be? Start writing these thoughts down in a notebook.


Vocational rehabilitation counselors do not choose a retraining program for you. The counselor is there to assist you, by helping you to identify a suitable program for you, and by monitoring your progress once you are in a program. The counselor can give you tests that can help determine which occupations you might like and whether you would be successful in those occupations. The counselor is also supposed to do a labor market survey so that you are not enrolled in a program that will lead to non-existent jobs. You will have to actively participate and do a lot of work on your own to decide which program is best for you. You must like what you are being retrained to do, you must be physically and mentally capable of the chosen training program, and you must be committed to it.


Some injured workers think that this would be a good time to start a business, as the permanent partial disability award money is usually paid around the time the injured worker is assigned to vocational rehabilitation services. Additional money can be paid as a vocational rehab lump sum buy-out that can also be used to fund a new business. However, many injured workers have no idea of the costs involved in starting and running a business, and how long it takes to actually make a living from a new business, assuming the business is profitable. If this is a goal, then get all of the information about costs, do your homework, write down information, develop a plan, and be brutally realistic with yourself. What is your plan C if the business fails?


There are very few jobs these days that do not require computer training. If you do not have minimal computer skills, your opportunities for non-physical jobs will be very limited. Ask you counselor whether there are some additional programs available in the community that you can use to supplement your voc rehabilitation training program. The sooner you accept that you must obtain additional skills and training to earn a living again, the more opportunities you will see around you.


I have seen many clients do very well with retraining programs, and many earn more than what they earning at the time of their accident after getting a year or two of entry-level work behind them in the new occupation. A terrible work accident can actually be a good opportunity to have schooling paid for while getting paid to go to school. Some of the worst injuries are related to occupations that require heavy physical labor. Those occupations cause degenerative diseases that age a person quickly. Even if a job accident does not occur, many people find they can't go on in a physically strenuous occupation past a certain age, but they can't retire yet. No paid retraining is available to those folks. A job injury that involves retraining can often be a blessing in disguise.