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What are the Biggest Workforce Challenges Faced by Federal State Agencies and How to Resolve Them with Dr. Virginia Selleck

Episode summary

In the last episode of the Government Enabled podcast, our host Cheryl Mitchell spoke with Dr. Virginia Selleck, who has been working in the field of mental health and rehabilitation for over 20 years. She’s currently doing consulting with states, adjusting her goal toward evidence-based implementation and policy.

We have discussed the problem of (un)employment of people with psychiatric disabilities, especially since post-COVID. According to Dr. Selleck, employment has significantly changed during and post-pandemic, mostly in terms of giving people with psychiatric disabilities the opportunity to work using the latest technology needed in business, which is one of the most crucial goals of the evidence-based practice.

Dr. Virginia Selleck refers to the most common challenges that people with disabilities have faced throughout the years while trying to get employment, including the fact that “people with psychiatric disabilities have been told for decades that work was too stressful.” Is it a myth or the truth? Should everyone be given a chance to work, including those who had criminal justice involvement in the past? Or employment should be limited to a certain group of people with adequate assets and abilities? Are there consequences of long-term unemployment?

Dr. Virginia provides valuable and justified answers to all the burning questions associated with the topic. Additionally, she helped us understand the position where people with disabilities are when it comes to employment, by sharing useful resources, websites and articles where we can learn more about this issue.

Guest at-a-glance

Key insights

  • “The goal of my work is almost always directed toward implementation and policy, help to implement […] evidence-based practice and to try to align policies and practices [..] to assist people in their recovery.” Virginia summarized the main topic of the podcast by telling us her goal. Evidence-based practice may help people with psychiatric disabilities get jobs and overcome the physical and mental issues caused by unemployment.
  • What leads to the unemployment of people with disabilities? According to Dr. Selleck, people’s attitudes are what determines their abilities, and when they think they shouldn’t work, they lose the opportunity to thrive. Eventually, unemployment leads to bad physical and mental health, and it is often followed by substance abuse.
  • What happens once a person who was in a rehabilitation program overcomes the barriers and gets the job? The truth is that those people can work, want to work, and will fit well into the workforce despite their fear of being rejected or discriminated against by other people. They are encouraged to share their stories and experiences with other people with disabilities to foster them to overcome the barriers leading to long-term unemployment.

Episode Highlights

Vital changes in employment since post-COVID

The pandemic not only changed the employment practice, but it also impacted the way it would be in the future. “We may see those barriers decline as more companies have learned that they’re able to do more and better, or just as good work in a virtual environment that may offer opportunities for people that they have not had before.” By creating a digital workspace, companies give all people the opportunity to do their jobs, without worrying about transportation, logistics, and other barriers a person with psychiatric disabilities might face on the way to work. 

Virginia also claims that a significant number of people with disabilities has remained employed at nursing homes, grocery stores, and other places that have been essential during the pandemic. She thinks that even though this is good, the situation can become better in the future.

(Un)availability of evidence-based practice

“Evidence-based supported employment, individual placement and support is a way of helping people get and keep jobs that has been researched for over 30 years, and has been found to be demonstrably more effective than other methods at helping people actually get their desired employment and keep their jobs,” explains Virginia. Although the practice has a strong foundation and exceptional ideas that support people with disabilities, why isn’t it universally available? 

Virginia claims that having states and practitioners learn the practice, the people’s fear of finding employment after they’ve been told that it was not good for them, and the funding might be the reasons why the evidence-based practice hasn’t reached its peak yet.

Funding as a severe barrier to achieving evidence-based practice goals

“But the third big barrier for states and providers to implement the practice is the funding, is figuring out how to actually support the practice,” said Virginia. Although the funding concept itself is not difficult to understand, the overall process is quite complex and requires a solid collaboration between providers, agencies, and state departments. In order to achieve the goals, evidence-based practice must be done according to fidelity – “By fidelity, I mean doing the practice the way it is designed and the way it has been demonstrably successful,” explains Virginia.

Does unemployment bring benefits to people with disabilities?

“As I mentioned before, people have often been discouraged from working and we now know that employment is one of the key social determinants of health.” People with disabilities are encouraged to believe that work is stressful and inadequate for them, while unemployment brings all the benefits that such individuals need. 

According to Virginia, long-term unemployment is the factor that leads to emotional and physical disorders and poverty, affecting one’s overall health, which is why people should support and motivate each other with personal experiences and real stories about overcoming challenges.

HR does have the power to hire more people with disabilities – Myth or Ban the Box?

Have you ever heard of the Ban the Box initiative? “Ban the Box means not asking people questions about criminal justice involvement until they get to the point at least of having an interview, so that they can explain whatever it was that happened in their past.” By sticking with Ban the Box methods, HR can get more involved in the employment process, encouraging more people to apply for jobs and giving them the chance to show themselves in a better light.