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Balancing occupational disability and skills transferability

It has often struck me that the different categories of occupational disability benefits are offered and provided to the incorrect sectors of the market and categories of lives.

The ‘own occupation’ benefit is commonly more available to the more professional and or specialised individual, while the ‘any other reasonable and or suited occupation’ benefit is usually made available to those with less lofty qualifications.

This trend, even if somewhat historic at this mature stage of occupational disability benefit design, simply does not align with the probability of successful skills transfer in each benefit domain.

A professional life, who can reasonably be expected to have enjoyed exposure to and experience in the use of advanced generic skills such as strategy development; organisation and planning; research and information gathering; analytics; communication; computers (to name a few) is probably far more able to engage in an innovative and dynamic exploration of how best to re-engage in the world of work, than an individual who had labored away as a machine operator; a trench digger; an assembly line worker or cleaner.

The difference in the ability to innovate does not necessarily lie in any intellectual quotient and or educational background, but rather lies in the ability to determine how an adjustment of the use of skills may apply, as succinctly illustrated by Tom Freston’s quote below:

‘Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way.’

 It stands to reason that in order to engage in a skills transferability assessment, one must have a pool of skills with which to work.

Possibly the single greatest challenge met by those assessing the suitability and ability of an individual to return to an alternative occupation is to properly identify and redefine the use of skills in the real world of work.

Setting aside the assessment and understanding of the impact of the disability on functionality, the assessment of skills and skills transferability draws on a combination of the following:

  • gathering a full overview of the work history of an individual, paying attention to the reasons for moving positions and or employers;
  • moving away from the seduction of assessing an individual within the context of a job title;
  • listening carefully to the individual’s description of their average work day, inclusive of all tasks, duties, responsibilities and outputs;
  • asking the individual what his / her greatest personal strengths are and what was most enjoyed in the workplace;
  • obtaining a feel for how the individual visualised the future from a work and income generating point of view, prior to becoming ill.

Once one has a clearer understanding of what skills and personal strengths were engaged in the active participation of work, one is a step closer to aligning such with alternative occupations where such skills may be utilised.

In addition to the above, an in-depth understanding of the work place in various domains is required in order to align skills in a realistic, workable and employable manner.  One ought to consciously avoid the trap of making assumptions in this regard.  For example, it does not necessarily hold that an individual well versed in a professional field can re-engage with remunerative work in the field of academics as a teacher or lecturer.  There are very specific skills and personal strengths required in these domains of work, which are also not always suitable to – or aligned with – the personality concerned.

One recognises the fact that an individual with a limited pool of skills will have difficulty engaging in any other occupation, while an individual with more transferable skills will be better placed in doing so, bringing me back to the issue of suitable policy wording.

If a cleaner has only ever worked as such and the individual’s work has generally engaged skills of an unskilled or semi-skilled manual nature, carried out repetitively day after day, it is improbable that the individual can be realistically assessed to be able to work in any other occupation, taking age, experience, education and experience into account.  There are just too few skills to transfer.

On the other hand, a professional manager who has been exposed to a variety of skills and experience is probably able to re-engage the use of skills in an alternative work environment, provided there is sufficient mental and physical functionality to do so. In spite of this probability however, this type of individual can be expected to have taken out own occupational disability cover.

Accommodation of the assessment of the transferability of skills does not appear to have been sufficiently considered in all occupational disability benefit definitions, nor to whom such definitions are offered and provided.

One cannot assess the suitability of an individual to the workplace in the absence of the reference to and understanding of the transferability of skills.  It simply does not work. Reference to these criteria in occupational disability definitions is recommended.

My work as a business coach incorporates working with those in receipt of occupational disability benefits amongst the many business owners and or consultants who make up this particular client base – and it has become increasingly clear to me that it is only through the investment in taking time to work with each individual’s skills; personal strengths; character and uniqueness that sustainable return to work is achieved.  What this work has highlighted and endorsed is that no individual – and no life assured – ever presents with the same capability with regard to the transferability of skills and it is through the guidance of coaching that such capability is attained.

Until next time …

Kind regards


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