Guest Robert “Bob” Wilson is a leader at Work Comp College, created to offer a deeper dive into workplace protections for employees. He’s not a lawyer or an academic type, but he’s long held an interest in the programs designed to protect workers and employers.
The field of helping workers recover from workplace injuries can get better, through training, tech, and, most importantly, through a renewed focus on recovery.
Wilson asks how can we bring the human element back. For attorneys representing both the injured worker and employers – even insurers – it seems we’ve forgotten about people, injured people the families who depend on them. Maybe it’s time to focus on restoring lives, not “processing claims.”
Dive into the world of making injured workers whole. Go beyond “compensation” and focus on “recovery,” getting to the right doctors, the right treatment, and getting back to feeling independent and enjoying meaningful work. Workers’ Comp is there to provide financial resources when workers are injured, but Wilson believes we go beyond “comp” and get to “recovery.”
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Intro: Workers Comp Matters, the podcast dedicated to the laws, the landmark cases, and the people that make up the diverse world of workers’ compensation. Here are your hosts, Jud and Alan Pierce.
Alan Pierce: Welcome to Workers Comp Matters. I’m Alan Pierce, your host. I’m with the law firm of Pierce, Pierce & Napolitano. We’re very excited to have as our guest today Robert Wilson, who is the founder or president of WorkCompCollege located at WorkCompCollege.com. So I’m anxious as well as I hope our audience is to learn more about this venture and what it means to all of us who work in and around and among the workers’ compensation community.
Bob Wilson is pretty much well known in the workers’ comp field. He’s the founding partner and former president and CEO of WorkersCompensation.com. He’s experienced presenter for this industry. He’s the author of From Bob’s Cluttered Desk, a blog which has repeatedly been named as a top workers’ comp blog by LexisNexis. He’s been named one of the 50 most influential people in workers’ comp by SEAK National Worker’s Comp and Occupational Medicine Conference. Among as many accolades, he is a recipient of a Comp Laude Industry Leader Award. He has a great sense of humor. His presentations reflect both entertaining, and practical advice for people managing claims as well as he puts it, the people picking up the tab. Bob, among other activities serves on the board of directors of Kids’ Chance of America, Inc. and is a founding board member and past president of Kids’ Chance of Florida. So Bob, welcome to Workers Comp Matters. It’s a pleasure for us to have you as our guest.
Robert Wilson: Thank you Alan, I appreciate it.
Alan Pierce: How did you get into the field of workers’ comp? You’re not a lawyer and you’re not an academic of sorts except as — are you dean of the college? I mean what’s your title here?
Robert Wilson: Oh no, I’m technically president of the college. I’m not dean of the college. We do have a provost. The college is actually not a specific college, but we have modeled it after a world of higher learning and that’s why we went with that name. To answer your question, I got into workers’ comp like everybody else, by complete accident, completely unaware of where I was headed when I got here.
I had a business management and HR background. I opened a web development business in the ‘90s and through those activities, I was introduced to a gentleman who owned the domain name WorkersCompensation.Com. He is an attorney here in Florida. He had never used –he bought the name on the advice of his brother-in-law in 1995 and hadn’t done anything with it. We had a common view for what could be done with that site. We set up the company and I developed and ran the company for 23 years. You know, just like everybody else in workers’ comp, it seems like none of us knew when we were kids this is where we’d end up. But once we’re here, this industry is like Hotel California, you can check out, but you can never ever leave.
Alan Pierce: I’ve sort of used the analogy, it’s sometimes like the mafia. You can’t get out.
Robert Wilson: You can’t get out. That’s true. That’s true. That makes me wonder about my retirement plan now, maybe a shorter term retirement that I think, but that’s probably true.
Alan Pierce: Yeah, and Bob, you and I — well, we’ve known each other for years. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been a guest on several of your podcast. I think you may have been a guest on Workers Comp Matters along the years as well. But I’ve heard you speak and even though we may not agree on everything, really coming from a strong claimant attorney background, we do both I think share one thing which is that this is a system that can always stand further improvement.
Robert Wilson: Right.
Alan Pierce: That is multifactorial, filled with problem areas and filled with abilities to find solutions. And one thing that’s impressed me about you is that you seem to understand that balance that needs to be met, not only between insurers and employees, but those of us that are involved in workers’ comp. It’s more than that, it’s HR and it’s vocational, and it’s medical, and it’s also regulatory and legislative and actuarial and economists, and statisticians. I mean, it is much more complex than you would think. So that leads us to what’s known as now WorkCompCollege. That’s all one word with a capital W, a capital C and a capital C.
Robert Wilson: Yes.
Alan Pierce: WorkCompCollege.com, so what was the inspiration that led to this concept of bringing further information and training in this type of form?
Robert Wilson: Well, the company itself was formed after — well there are partners. I’m one of the partners. Mark Pew, who’s known in the industry as RX Professor is one of the partners. I know you know mark and a gentleman named Donald Abrams out of Austin, Texas, who was a PA by training but has done medical consulting and rating work in Texas.
Don actually is the one who started this process. He approached Mark Pew recognizing the challenges we were having in the industry along with a lot of other industries, the graying of our industry, the inability to attract younger people into the industry, the fact that we have staffing shortages and he wanted to talk about setting up a training system that could help address and alleviate that particularly with younger generations. As they talked, Mark and I have been friends for a long time, he was aware of some of my positions that I’ve expressed at WorkersCompensation.com or in my blog which was then hosted WorkersCompensation.com about how we should improve the industry and thought we have a common view point and he was right. And we really got together and decided that this really was the time to look it up — a way that embraced some of the things that we’ve been talking about in the industry in conferences, but really haven’t deployed on a larger scale and that’s really training — that addresses technical issues but also is heavily steeped in the bio-psychosocial factors, the human side of the equation that has been lost over the years in the way that the industry has evolved and how it trains.
That’s not by the way an indictment of the people in the industry, there are a lot of really good people in this industry but they are — to some degree, our work process has been a result of what has developed over the years. We can get into a little more detail on that, but that gives you an idea of where we ended up. So we really decided that it was time to start trying to work from the ground up and train people in a little different method that will produce better outcomes for injured workers and as I tell people the dirty little secret is, if we get better outcome for injured workers, we’re also getting better outcomes for the employers and those are really the two to stakeholders that our industry was established to serve.
Alan Pierce: I’m glad you mentioned the human element of all of this. As we run down the occupational titles of people that deal in workers’ compensation either exclusively or as a significant part of their professional life, you could fill several pages of job descriptions of people who touch workers’ compensation and lost in that — and I have found from my observation is the fact that the worker — you can sometimes go to some of these large seminars that have sprung up for smallest seminars. There’s no shortage of seminars and training and you don’t see a whole lot about the worker. You see a lot about cost control and cost containment and better methods and better practices and speedier this and better that.
But at the end of the day, this is called workers’ compensation. The compensation piece, we all understand, it’s money. It can be other things like vocational retraining, but I mean it’s a cost. But sometimes we overlook the worker and the fact that when that injury happens, everything changes for a family if it’s a significant injury.
Robert Wilson: Right.
Alan Pierce: So now sort of going from perhaps attending seminars and being a presenter through establishing this college, what does it look like? Is that a platform-based internet online course? Are there certificates or degrees or accreditations? Just give us a quick overview of the structure.
Robert Wilson: Absolutely. Our primary educational platform was called the Workers’ Recovery Professional Certification. It’s a new certification, it consists of 64 virtual classes. It’s all in a virtual environment right now. We’re not ruling out future in-person events, but right now it’s an all virtual environment, self-guided study, 64 classes, about 51 hours of lecture content. There is a video lecture with each class. There is a test with each class, a time test. We want this to be — this is a serious effort. We want this to be a legitimate program. As I tell people, it’s not a weekend Pilates Certification at the local Hilton Garden Inn. People will invest some time in this.
The tests are timed, every student has one shot at the test for each course. There is a final exam when they have completed all the requirements which is an average 70% is a passing on any of the individual course exams. On the final exam we consider 80% or better passing. Once you have watched all the videos, taken the tests and had a passing overall course grade, the system will produce a certificate that is a Workers’ Recovery Professional Certification. It comes with its own QR code that people can frame. People can scan that QR code so that our system will verify its legitimate, the date it was issued, who it was issued to because we don’t want people to be able to fake something like this, so we want to be able to do that.
To your point earlier though, something you said when you say you go to conferences and all the conferences and seminars — I’ve talked with friends about this that I’ve gone to seminars and I speak at conferences and I’ve heard some really intelligent, very knowledgeable people speak in these panels and I struggle to find the human being that’s attached to the process that they’re talking about. Because it’s almost as if the injured worker is irrelevant to the process, when the injured worker is the process and that happens from all sides and that’s really one of the things that we’re trying to drive and change that focus.
You know, years ago, a lot of insurance carriers have pretty effective training programs. When I first joined the industry, there were some carriers with some really lengthy effective training programs. Well after the dotcom bubble burst in the early 2000s, a lot of that investment income went away. We found that a lot of training was what got cut and the industry really started just stealing each other’s employees and that became the de facto go-to for solving your staffing issues. Well now, it’s a great resignation, we’ve got all sorts of staffing challenges across all sorts of industries. We don’t have that opportunity anymore. We’re running out of people to steal and so we really do want to try and return some of that training. But really again as I said earlier, focus back on why we’re training.
You talk to an adjuster today and they’ll talk about the files on their desk. Each of those files is a human being, and it’s not just one human being. There’s a host of lives attached to that human being, their kids that maybe need supplies for school, or they need clothes for school or they need food for lunches. I mean, how are they going to feed their family? I mean these are the things that we don’t think about as we “process claims” when in reality, we’re restoring — if we do it right, we’re restoring broken and shattered lives, if we do it properly.
Alan Pierce: At that point, before we get into that a little deeper, we’re going to take a brief break and we’ll return to our guests Bob Wilson and WorkCompCollege. We’ll be right back.
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Alan Pierce: Okay, we’re back with Bob Wilson. Bob, I want to pick up on a phrase that you used in your last response, “workers’ recovery” as opposed to “workers’ compensation.” I’ve heard you speak before and messaging and terminology plays a great role in expectations and disappointments, et cetera. So tell us why you didn’t use the term “workers’ compensation” and you use the term “workers’ recovery” and what that means to you?
Robert Wilson: We think it’s a shift in the way people will view the system. People who’ve read my blog know that for over a decade I’ve been an advocate of rebranding the workers’ compensation industry and my arrival at that idea or that concept was really a lot of what I learned running WorkersCompensation.com. We had a discussion forum on the website that was open to anybody, but it was dominated by injured workers. For years, I would see new injured workers come into the site. They would leave a long description of what had just happened to them. They were injured in the job. They were sent to the emergency room with the doctor. They’ve been sent home. They don’t know what’s coming next. They don’t know where the next check is coming from. They’re confused. They’re looking for information and at the end of this long description, they would invariably ask a common –essentially the same question. They may use different words or it’s the same question. How much can I make? How much will I make? How big will my settlement be? And it really led me to believe that they were focusing on the one word they could understand fully which was “compensation” but they didn’t understand it in the way that were statutorily defined to provide it and I think there’s some mixed messaging that people get in that environment.
I understand the need for compensation. I certainly understand. Everyone’s got rent or mortgage due, they got car payments. They’ve got families to feed. It’s an important thing and it’s a scary time when they’ve been injured and they don’t know what’s happening, but they focus primarily on compensation when we really want them and the people who are helping them to focus on recovery. The ultimate goal, the question they really should be asking is, “How do I make sure they’re getting me to the right doctors? How do I get prompted and attentive care? How do I get better and get back to work and how can I support my family? How can we get beyond this point?”
So I really thought we should brand the industry and we should call the industry “workers’ recovery” and not “workers’ compensation.” We shouldn’t have adjusters; we should have work the recovery specialists. Frankly, I don’t think we should have injured workers, we should have recovering workers. Yes, I understand that some people are not going to be able — a lot of injured workers will not be able to fully recover, but we’re still talking about changing our focus in our communications with these workers to understand what has happened and that they have to get back to a certain point from wherever they’re at. They may not be in some situations the person they fully were before based on their injury or the impairment they’re left with. But there are still things they can do in their lives to provide value and dignity in their life.
I’m not a big fan of disability and I know you and I could probably go back and forth about the meaning of a permanent total disability award. I know claimant’s attorneys. It’s a big win for them but I think it’s an unfortunate loss sometimes for the claimant. I’m not criticizing the attorney, they’re doing their job, they’re representing and they’re trying to get them the best arrangement they can for their future. But as an industry, you ask any adjuster today, “What’s the most important thing when a new claim file hits the desk?” When a new file hits your desk, what’s the overriding goal? And they will always say, “Close it.” That’s the thing. “Thank you. Have a nice day but don’t have it here.”
Alan Pierce: The first thing they do is they put the reserve on it. The first thing they think of is dollars, what is this claim going to cost us in the worst case scenario?
Robert Wilson: That’s right.
Alan Pierce: How much do we have to set aside and can we close it within that parameter?
Robert Wilson: Right. It’s all very technical, it’s very financial, but we don’t focus on how do we make sure this life gets restored and doesn’t become dependent on society for the rest of their time on earth, you know? I think that we shuffle a lot of people off to the disability — the Social Security Disability Index and that’s not something as a society we can really afford to do anymore. I think the workers’ recovery changes that paradigm and actually not just for the injured workers who don’t know anything about the system.
Think about it, you’re an injured worker and you get injured on the job, you have to file a workers’ compensation report of injury, first report of injury. In many states, you get sent to a workers’ compensation doctor. You’re assigned a workers’ compensation adjuster. What if that was all focused on — you had to fill out of recovery report, a workers’ recovery report of injury, you’re sent to a recovery — you dealt with a recovery specialist, it changes the attitude not just for the injured worker, but for the people I think who are in the system doing that work. It would remind us of the more important long-term goal.
Alan Pierce: I’m looking at the college. You actually could be Work Comp University because I’m on your webpage, under general studies, you’ve got what? Eight different schools.
Robert Wilson: We do. We have an area of general studies with just a couple courses, but then we have a school of risk management. We have a school claims. We have a school of legal. We have a school of stakeholders. We have a school of humanities. We have a school of regulatory legal. Gosh, I hope I may have missed one.
Alan Pierce: School of return to work.
Robert Wilson: School of return to work. This really leans back to something you said early on when we started, Alan, is there are a lot of moving parts in this industry. We want people not only to understand how better to listen and communicate with injured workers. We also want them to understand where they fit in this giant machine and how if their function doesn’t work right, how that throws other areas off within the industry. So, that’s kind of why we’ve got the stakeholders and these return to work and the regulatory and legislative.
Alan Pierce: And that’s a good time for us to take another break to hear from our sponsor and we’ll be right back with Bob Wilson.
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Alan Pierce: Welcome back. We’re just getting into the various schools of claims, humanities, legal, et cetera with Bob Wilson. One of the questions I had when I first saw the description of WorkCompCollege, and by the way, this is not to be confused with the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of which I am heavily involved as a fellow and Bob as well.
Workers’ comp is so state-specific, while there are certain general principles, the injury has to rise out of in the course and scope of employment, et cetera. How do you deal with in this type of model that you have to effectively train whomever with respect to the vagaries of their particular jurisdiction, state or federal?
Robert Wilson: Now, great question. Great question. The WRP Program itself is a standalone best practices program that’s designed to be kind of high-level, good for anybody across the nation, but we are also developing right now state-specific modules that people — we’re developing several new areas of education we haven’t really touched on. They’re all based on what we call the Advanced Training and Education Center which we’ll launch within the next few weeks on WorkCompCollege.com. Part of the ATEC, Advanced Training and Education Center, is a state-specific module grouping that will be done for each state, three or four courses that will cover filing requirements, claim management, specifics, regulatory environment, ethics and legal requirements within each given state and that’s being done with a variety of partners. A lot of them are lawyers around the country who are going to be producing those state-specific modules.
Now, those modules will also be available as a standalone subscription if anybody wants to have access to. They don’t have to have the WRP, but they will be available to people following the WRP and members of the ATEC so that they can get that very specific state instruction that you’re asking about. Because the interesting thing about workers’ comp is workers’ comp is exactly the same and completely different in every state — same principle, but absolutely different in the way the states handle it. So the state modules will be one of the programs that we have to accommodate that need so that you can come through the program, you understand best practices, but you’ll also be able to understand the nuts and bolts of Texas or Colorado or California. Well I’m not sure anybody can understand California, but they give it our best shot. So that’s really what the state modules will provide.
Alan Pierce: So I’m looking at your website again and you have a core courses and state-specific courses. These are taught by instructors.
Robert Wilson: Right.
Alan Pierce: What do you call them? Instructors, teachers, professors? What’s the nomenclature?
Robert Wilson: They’re called instructors or faculty members.
Alan Pierce: Are these live in-person classes or these pre-recorded to give us an idea of what we can expect if we elect to take a course or a series of courses?
Robert Wilson: They are all pre-recorded. They are available as I said on-demand. Now we do have some live courses. You just most recently participated in what will be is our first live course — an excellent discussion by the way, you guys did a great job on the 1972 Commission on State Workmen’s Compensation Laws and analysis of where we are today versus recommendations. That is going to be one of the courses available as an ongoing education in ATEC. We’re going to have elective modules of all sorts of things in addition to the state modules. We already have probably 15 courses recorded and ready to go, but they will all be virtual in nature.
Now, we aren’t ruling out in-person events. We’ve talked with a several — two specific conference organizers in the country about adding a day or adding a track that would be WorkCompCollege specific and we would like to do that, but we’re a young company. We’re still building the WRP and awareness of what we’re doing. So right now, everything is virtual and pre-recorded.
Alan Pierce: Obviously there’s a cost associated with this, is there a cost for the entire program? Can you do à la carte? Buy a course, buy a subject matter, et cetera? How does that work?
Robert Wilson: Well, the WRP Program is a single cost. The retail cost is $995 for a student to go in and register and enroll in that program. Obviously we have some volume discounts available. We have several companies who have purchased what we call “associate packages” gold or silver associate packages and those are companies that are actually helping sponsor and promote the event and they are putting 30 or 40 of their employees through the process at the same time.
The module program, the state module program will be available at $495 a year subscription for all 50 state modules. The ATEC is a $240 a year cost. So there are some individual costs to joining the various module areas. We don’t at this point have individual courses where you can go in and buy an individual course, you’ll buy a program. The WRP is a certification. The state modules will each provide a certificate of completion in case someone needs that for an employer or licensure. We do have two jurisdictions right now, two states, where employees of the workers’ comp administrative agencies are in our system and assessing it for use in licensing or certifications within those states.
That obviously would be very good for us if that is to proceed, but they are — we’re getting a lot of support and interest from regulators which was surprising to me. Actually we’ve got a lot of offers from help from various state agencies because I think everyone recognizes that there’s a better way to communicate and do things out there and I think we’re hitting on the right idea.
Alan Pierce: No, I think you are too. I’m very interested to follow the development of this WorkCompCollege. So, let’s close with this. If somebody were interested in following up and registering or learning more, tell us what they should do.
Robert Wilson: Well I would definitely encourage them to go to WorkCompCollege.com. Mark and Don and I have been putting a lot of effort into this, but I had someone recently say, “Well, why should I choose you three versus other certification programs?” That was a gentleman I’ve known for a long time, worked for large GPAs looking at our program and I said, “Well if it was just the three of us, I wouldn’t use us because the three of us could not produce the content that we have produced. I would encourage you to look at our deans. We have nine deans that include regulators, former regulators, workers’ comp managers for large corporations, public entities, risk managers. We have got a very balanced group of experts who have helped guide the curriculum and the criteria.” We have a Board of Trustees, what I’m actually talking about. We have a group of deans that head up each of the schools that have also contributed to this process and then we have over 50 faculty members that have joined to do this.
Alan, I got to say one of the things is most impressive to me is, there’s a financial compensation for doing these classes, but no one’s getting rich putting these classes together. They’re all doing it because they want to leave a better industry than the one they found. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what they want to do. In fact, I can tell you what’s really neat is the money that has been committed to development in these courses, 57% of it so far has been directed at their instruction to go to local charities, mostly Kids’ Chance. In our first couple months of operation we sent $5,400 to Kids’ Chance organizations around the country on behalf of our instructors. They’re not doing it for the money. They’re doing it because they want to build a better system.
So, I would encourage people to go to WorkCompCollege.com, look at the instructors, look at the deans, look at the faculty, look at the trustees and then look at the curriculum. We published all the curriculum or what’s coming and if they have any questions, there are some methods through that website, phone numbers and contact forms that they can submit. We’ll be happy to talk to them. They can feel free to use the numbers to call us or submit a formal, we’ll be happy to answer any questions. That’s what I would recommend they do.
Alan Pierce: Speaking of Kids’ Chance, you are one of the founders and very strong proponent. That’s a charity that assists the children essentially of either workers who are either permanently seriously or killed in the course of employment?
Robert Wilson: Right.
Alan Pierce: And it’s a great organization, raises a lot of money and it goes to the right folks and our next episode of Workers Comp Matters, we will have somebody from Kids’ Chance and we’ll be speaking about that program in more depth.
Robert Wilson: That’s excellent. I do have to clarify one thing. I was on the founding board of Kids’ Chance of Florida. I’m not a founder of Kids’ Chance of America, that goes to Bob Clyatt out of Valdosta, Georgia.
Alan Pierce: I remember, came out of Georgia and its really spreading. You’re in every state now, you pretty close?
Robert Wilson: All 50 states as of last year.
Alan Pierce: Yeah, I know it. It was getting close to all 50 and I’m glad. So Bob, I want to thank you for taking the time to be with us and more specially, taking the time to develop WorkCompCollege. I think it will benefit everybody and it will help all of us who deal with the system on a day-to-day basis, understand it more properly and serve really the person who needs it most, which is the injured worker and their families. So again on behalf of Work Comp Matters and personally, I want to thank you for all you’ve done and all you continue to do for our practice.
Robert Wilson: Thank you Alan, I really appreciate the opportunity and for helping us spread the word. It means a lot to us.
Alan Pierce: And to those of you who listen to Work Comp Matters, again as I mentioned, please tune in for our next edition and it will be on Kids’ Chance and we look forward to presenting that program to you in about a month. Having said that, goodbye and make it a good day.