left) Carla Thrower, Joe Vigil, Dr. David R. Strauser,
Dr. Daniel C. Lustig and Peter Barnes discuss a new
program Strauser and Lustig wrote for the clients of
The U of M's Center for Rehabilitation and Employment
Employment issues plague the nation, and while many sit and
talk about solutions, two University of Memphis researchers
are putting words into action.
Associate professor David R. Strauser and assistant professor
Daniel C. Lustig of counseling, educational psychology and
research are working through the University's Center for Rehabilitation
and Employment Research to help nearly 400 people retain meaningful
jobs each year.
"We provide a service while obtaining information at
the same time," Dr. Strauser says. "That's why I
think our work is so unique."
Strauser, the Center's director, and Dr. Lustig, assistant
director, have been conducting employment research together
for three years, focusing on individuals with disabilities.
The pair look for reasons these individuals cannot perform
or retain certain jobs.
"Research has shown that the number one reason people
lose jobs is not because they don't have the skills required
to do the job," Strauser says, "it's their lack
of interpersonal skills."
So Strauser and Lustig build employment-enhancing programs
to help individuals develop essential skills to get and maintain
jobs. One such program, The Community Based Job Readiness
Training Program, has already been successful, teaching clients
how to overcome hardships, handle stress on the job, understand
time management, use effective communication skills and dress
appropriately. The curriculum even has an anger-management
Research for these programs begins by obtaining background
and demographic information about unemployed populations from
various human service agencies. The researchers examine the
psychological, social and interpersonal variables that relate
"A lot of programs get people jobs, but the critical
thing is to get people meaningful jobs and then help them
keep the jobs they get," Strauser says.
Strauser and Lustig dip into the Memphis metropolitan area
to find their clients. Most are from low-income situations,
are of low socio-economic status and have a disability, whether
it be physical, psychological or emotional. In addition, they
also research individuals who are chronically unemployed because
of a lack of social skills, or those who are underemployed,
such as women, minorities and recipients of financial assistance.
Strauser's research focuses primarily on strategies to improve
work personality and the psychological factors that affect
the employment of individuals with disabilities. Lustig mainly
concentrates on family adjustment to disability and the impact
of the client/counselor relationship on employment outcomes
for individuals with
Often, a college student population is used as a comparison
group in their research. They examine the skills of those
who can retain jobs and compare them to the adeptness of those
who cannot. Differences between the groups are noted. Subjects
then become clients as the Center's staff executes programs
outlined by Strauser and Lustig to teach those who cannot
retain jobs the skills of those who can.
Job Well Done
After comparing current data to that from two years before
The Community Based Job Readiness Training Program's implementation,
Strauser and Lustig have been pleased with the results.
"Our program is very effective in helping people retain
jobs, so that has been very encouraging news for us,"
Strauser says. "We have not increased the number of people
who have found jobs, but we have increased the number of people
who have kept jobs, which is what we wanted to do."
Four grants totaling $2.2 million per year from the Tennessee
Division of Rehabilitation Services fund most of Strauser
and Lustig's labor. Their current project, "Expectancies
for Rehabilitation Counseling," focuses on the relationship
between the Center's clients and counselors to gauge how that
bond facilitates positive employment outcomes for individuals
Strauser and Lustig are currently partnered locally with
Access Center for Technology (ACT), Clovernook Center for
the Blind, Goodwill Industries International Inc., Memphis
Works, New Directions, Partners in Placement Inc., the Tennessee
Division of Rehabilitation Services and others.
"We have a diversity of subjects that we use from the
community," Strauser says. "We don't bring people
in. We really work with human-service agencies who are already
trying to help the people we study."
The driving force is to change lives.
"If we help people capture some kind of occupational
identity, it will help their overall global functioning,"
Strauser says, "and when that's achieved, the outcome
is very rewarding."