Education & Employment Readiness Programs

When I worked with the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions  as Director of Education, I gave seminars at the Education and Employment Track Annual Conference.   My topic was best practices regarding how educational and job readiness efforts relate to counseling and recovery program efforts.   Here are some of the thoughts I shared with those attending:

A.       Vocational Success is a God-given Need — After God created Adam and Eve, He told them, “Be fruitful…”   (Genesis 8:17)   He wants all of us to work in order to earn a living and also to discover and develop our unique gifts and abilities.   With the second point in mind, mission recovery programs should use testing and other methods to help clients discover their unique interests and abilities.   For some, college or vocational training may need to be the next step in preparing them for a fulfilling career.

B.       A Team Approach is Vital — Staff workers who deal with education and employment readiness must be viewed as integral members of the recovery program team.   They need to be included in all staff meetings where clients are discussed.   Additionally, they must be kept up-to-date on issues relating to the counseling process and allowed to share their observations on the clients with other program staff members.   Much can be learned about program participants while they are involved in educational and vocational training efforts.

C.       “Pulling Your Own Weight” — The Apostle Paul wrote, “”If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”   (2 Thessalonians 3:10)   In recovery counseling, we know that really helping people means assisting them to become responsible for their own lives.   While some addicts may seem happy to let others take care of them, this always impacts self-esteem — especially for those who find sobriety.   Prolonged unemployment or being stuck in an unfulfilling job can create enough stress that relapse becomes a real possibility.   Conversely, the rewards of succeeding in the work life can be a major source of motivation to keep moving forward in a life of recovery.

D.       Timing is Everything! — Introducing the various elements of an education and training program in the proper sequence is essential.   For instance, having clients begin looking for work before they have become stabilized in recovery can be a real problem.   Instead of focusing their efforts on working on their own internal issues, they will begin to look outward and derail the process of growing toward recovery.   Here is the best sequence:

1.       Literacy — Every rescue mission recovery program must evaluate the reading level of their program participants.   Someone once said that reading is the foundation of all learning.   If we want them to learn from our classes, clients must be able to read.   Along with severely limiting job possibilities, illiteracy causes major damage to self worth.   Literacy work can be done by the mission’s staff or by using resource people in the community.   A great online resource for help in this area is ProLiteracy –

2.       High School Completion — A high school diploma is necessary for most any job.   So, many rescue missions now maintain their own computer based learning centers that focus on literacy and high school completion.   Even if your mission does not have such a resource, assisting recovery program clients to obtain their GED (General Education Diploma) still ought to be a planned part of their stay.   This effort can begin very early in the program, possibly even becoming a condition for graduation.   The key is finding appropriate resources in the community to facilitate this.

3.       Employment Readiness & Job Search — While I encourage programs to wait until a participant nears graduation before actually beginning to look for work, employment readiness can begin almost right away.   This can involved classes about the scriptural perspective of work, as well as learning other skills and attitudes that will assist them when they eventually begin the process of seeking employment or further education.

4.      Monitoring Job Success –   Transitional living arrangements are the ideal situation, allowing program staff members to monitor and encourage program graduates once they graduate and enter the world of work or obtaining further education.   Holding them accountable, communicating with employers, and providing additional assistance and encouragement to theses clients will help to ensure their success.

E.       Don’t Forget About Restitution — Where rescue missions use the Twelve Steps in their recovery programs, clients are taken through the “8th & 9th Step Process.”   This involves identifying those whom they had harmed through their addition and making a definite effort at making amends to them.   This process can involve much encouragement and even coaching so that they can clean up the relational messes of their lives.   Inevitably in the process of working these steps, some people will be identified to whom financial restitution is due.   To experience real freedom of conscience, our clients must understand that it is God’s will for them to make restitution.


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