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Return to work


The NZST’s Vocational Rehabilitation service began as an experiment in 2002 to see how, or if, the return-to-work rate for people following spinal cord impairment (SCI) could be improved

At that time, the return-to-work rate was estimated to be about 13%. The late Professor Alan Clarke gathered a panel of experts to discuss this and as a result persuaded Andrew Hall to quit his 20-year career in the IT industry to join the NZST and see what could be done. Both Professor Clarke and Andrew had spinal cord injuries themselves so had a lived experience of many of the challenges that a return to the workforce presents but they also knew of the huge benefits that being in paid work provides. The service began properly at the Burwood Spinal Unit in 2003, followed 3 years later at the Auckland Spinal Rehabilitation Unit in 2006.

The service provides early intervention and, where necessary, restorative vocational rehabilitation including detailed career advice and planning, educational support and specialist work support which helps to remove barriers to working. We are dedicated to getting people who have a spinal cord impairment into meaningful and sustainable employment.

Our guiding principles are:

  • Everyone can have a great job
  • Its healthy to be working
  • The sooner the better
  • There are thousands of work opportunities
  • Personal networks are the key
  • The process for getting a job is the same as before
  • You can do it yourself – Whatever it takes!
  • Your life experiences give you unique qualifications

The vocational rehabilitation service connects with people early on in their rehabilitation (i.e., 80% of patients are engaged within 3 weeks post SCI). This combined with the holistic approach of the multi-disciplinary team, sets the client to powerfully re-enter the job market. Specialist Vocational Consultants provide on-going individual career coaching with a strong emphasis on the client doing as much of the work as possible. Dependency is a learned behaviour, and we recognise this and encourage our patients/clients to own their vocational rehabilitation, receive education and feel empowered.

The other key aspect of the service, which is crucial to its success, is involving employers early as well as being available post placement for support.