“Excellence is a Habit”
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Aristotle once said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
“Excellence is a habit” is a good way to describe the work of the Ontario Disability Employment Network, as evidenced by its achievements in 2011‐12.
The Network exists to support the efforts of people who have a disability to get jobs. It is a small organization with a big commitment, one that gets a large effort from everyone associated with it.
The Network’s prescription for success is surprising in its simplicity: engage employers who know firsthand that hiring people who have a disability is good business, and let them do the heavy lifting. Give them the challenge and the opportunity to take the message to their colleagues, and let their colleagues make their companies better by adding to the number of people who have a disability who are gainfully employed.
As Executive Director, Joe Dale has remarked: “In our collective consciousness we understand the value of having business owners and operators speak to other businesses. And that finding and supporting Champions is a tremendous help to moving our agenda forward and creating positive changes in the employment situation for people who have a disability. These are business owners who can demonstrate to their peers that it is not only possible but, in fact, beneficial to the bottom line, to include people who have a disability in the workforce. This approach and these individuals will help us achieve greater outcomes for those whom we support.”
Proof of the efficacy of engagement comes in the form of one of the employment initiatives supported by Network Champion Mark Wafer (Tim Horton’s franchisee) and also involving Joe, called Rotary at Work. Rotary at Work has produced 170 jobs for people who have a disability since its inception, including 60 jobs in 2011‐12. Rotary at Work has achieved this lofty goal by mobilizing the members of Rotary Clubs across Ontario to hire and promote hiring. Rotary at Work has set the stage and the formula for the Network’s Champion’s League.
The Champion’s League consists of employers who have committed to hiring people who have a disability and who have volunteered their time to convince others to do the same. Over the past year, the Network supported the efforts not just of Mark Wafer, but of Mike Bradley, Mayor of Sarnia, Joe Hoffer, lawyer with Cohen Highley in London and the Network’s most recent Champion, Dennis Winkler. They have presented to business operators, recruited municipalities to hire, written papers and delivered seminars on the hiring topic.
Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor the Honourable David C. Onley understands the merit of the engagement principle. In 2011‐12 he recruited two Network Champions and the Executive Director to sit on his Employer Panel that is charged with promoting jobs for people who have a disability throughout the province. Two members of this panel, including Network Champion Mark Wafer, have also been appointed to the Federal Panel on Employment and Disability.
To top off the year, three of the Network’s Champions – Mayor Mike Bradley, Joe Hoffer and Mark Wafer; along with two members of the Board of Directors – Cheryl Massa and Bob Vansickle; and, the Executive Director, Joe Dale, were awarded with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award.
If employer engagement is the first pillar for the Network’s accomplishments, educating and influencing government is another. Without policy and funding that expedites employment for people with disabilities, the Network and its constituencies are severely restricted in meeting their goals. In 2011‐12 the Network undertook a range of initiatives related to government that included:
• Meeting with Ministry of Community and Social Services Minister John Milloy and discussing the benefits of employer engagement, barriers within the system and how to address them, and the need to support student employment
• Educating decision makers at the Ministry of Colleges, Training and Universities’ Employment Ontario division about the unique needs and challenges people who have a disability have in trying to access the workforce. As a result, EO has agreed to re‐think its disability services strategy and now understands the need for specialized employment services for this group.
• The Social Assistance Review Commission has the potential to make wide‐sweeping changes to the system. The Network submitted a substantial position paper to the Commission, making 37 separate recommendations.
By year end, the Network had assumed the role of the “go to” organization for politicians, bureaucrats and the media on issues related to people who have a disability and employment.
Beyond employer engagement and government relations, the Network was active in professional development, with its Job Developers Roadmap training, annual Champions for Change conference and half‐day regional training events. It sponsored its first webcast on the subject of the Social Assistance Review Commission interim report.
On the communications side, the Network upgraded its website to be totally accessible, and was active on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Its reach has been extended via press releases and being featured on local TV, National newspapers and National radio interviews.
Employer engagement. Government relations. Professional development. Communications. Excellence is a habit. Excellence is the Ontario Disability Employment Network.
We are ‘on the ground’ operators, working at the grass roots.
The People Behind the Scenes
The Ontario Disability Employment Network is led by a dedicated and committed volunteer Board of Directors and a one‐day per week Executive Director. Since the Network does not receive any government funding the Board takes an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to managing the work of the organization. Every member is actively engaged and fulfills a variety of duties and tasks.
Bob Vansickle – Chair
• Leads Government Relations
• Lead on Employment Ontario Task Force
• Assists with Employer Engagement Strategy
• Manages Social Media
• Assists with member communications
• Assists with conference and member training events
Debbi Soucie – Vice Chair
• Manages meetings, AGM, by‐laws, etc.
• Liaison with the ODSP Action Coalition
• Assists with Government Relations
• Participates on the Employment Ontario Task Force
Cheryl Massa – Treasurer
• Finance & budget
• Conference Chair
• Assists with Employer Engagement Strategy
• Assists with member training events
Chris Guillemette – Secretary
• Meeting minutes, agendas, etc.
• Lead on AGM, by‐laws, resolutions, etc.
• Interface with Canada Revenue Agency & reporting
• Membership development and recruitment
Greg Bruckler – Director
• Manages communications and member email lists
• Assists with conference and member training
• Assists with social media
Gord Ryall – Director
• Manages member services and recruitment
• Member of Employment Ontario Task Force
• Represents the Network with the Canadian University Research Alliance
The Year in Review
Employer Engagement Strategy
One of the areas that the Network and its Board are most proud of is our employer engagement strategy. We have made terrific progress in enhancing the knowledge and acceptance of workforce participation as a result of the work of our Champion’s League. Engaging business leaders in our cause has had a terrific impact in extending our resources, our reach and in accelerating our successes.
Mayor Mike Bradley and the Mayor’s Challenge has seen a number of municipalities get on board with hiring people who have a disability in municipalities. Additionally, Mayor Bradley has spoken at Human Resources Professionals Association conferences, Young Professionals Associations and beyond.
Joe Hoffer has written papers and delivered seminars for the Ontario Law Society, Legal Leaders for Diversity, Police Services Board, Ontario Property Managers Association and beyond.
Mark Wafer takes the lead on the Rotary at Work initiative along with a number of other Rotarians who have hired people who have a disability. This initiative has brought the business case message to thousands of business owners and operators across the province. This work has spread well beyond Rotary clubs with speaking engagements at Chambers of Commerce, Human Resource Professionals Association chapters and individual businesses and corporations.
Our inductee for this year, Dennis Winkler is now fully oriented and ready to engage in the small business sector and restaurant association.
Several of our Champions have also spoken at conferences in the disability sector and provided training sessions for job developers. The Champions also gave a very powerful presentation to the Social Assistance Review Commission during its deliberations.
The Champion’s League, based on a business-to-business, peer to peer approach, has garnered recognition at many levels. Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, David C. Onley, has become an ally of the League and engages the members at his office regularly.
His Honour established a Provincial Employer Panel to promote employment for people who have a disability. Two of our Champions and our Executive Director, sit on this panel and two of these panel members, including Network Champion Mark Wafer were appointed to the Federal Panel on Employment and Disability.
Much of the Network’s time and energy has been consumed by our government relations work. Following our provincial forum, representatives of local networks from across the province ratified the need to create a strong provincial voice when it comes to speaking to government. And they agreed that voice should be the Ontario Disability Employment Network.
Working from that platform the Board has adopted a very specific and deliberate strategy – that being the need to find the common ground with government and to work from that platform. The obvious ‘common ground’ or central goal is the need to help more people who have a disability get into the workforce. This would seem to be obvious but often seems to be overlooked in advocacy campaigns.
By identifying and reinforcing the common goal, we are then able to identify and attempt to remove the barriers within the system. And, by ‘system’ we mean the entire system – both government and service delivery operators. In so doing we have been able to position the Network as a resource and, through our success, have been able to influence change from within.
Today, we are experiencing positive engagement with Government. The Network is routinely in communications with all levels of government from Ministers to policy makers and in a variety of Ministries that impact employment service delivery.
Ministry of Community and Social Services
The Network has had a number of meetings with Minister John Milloy. Through these meetings we were able to discuss: the value of our employer engagement strategy, including our Champion’s League and the business case for hiring people who have a disability; barriers within the system itself and how we might remove some of those; and, the need to develop a strategy for student employment. The highlight came in late August when we spent a full day with Minister Milloy, touring employment agencies and meeting employers who hire people who have a disability.
We have had a number of meetings with policy staff of the Developmental Services Branch and Assistant Deputy Minister David Carter-Whitney. These meetings focused on the potential barriers that may be created by the DSO (Developmental Services Ontario) process and the challenges of volunteering in the private sector, which seems to be condoned, if not sanctioned in the supported employment service code descriptions. We also spoke about Student Employment and the need for an Employment First policy framework.
We have had on-going meetings and communication with Patti Redmond, Director of the ODSP Branch. These meetings cover issues related to systems barriers and improvements and the ODSP modernization process. We have also presented our concerns for student employment and the Employment First policy framework as these issues cross several government jurisdictions.
Ministry of Colleges, Training and Universities
Many of our members, previously funded by HRSDC under the EAS agreements, have been ‘on hold’ as a result of the transfer responsibility from the Federal Government to the Province. MTCU has positioned services for people who have a disability under the Employment Ontario umbrella. Up until the point where the Network started to engage Employment Ontario, the strategy seemed to be to fold services for people who have a disability into the mainstream, generic EO service delivery model.
The Network, with its EO Task Force spent the better part of a year, educating decision makers at Employment Ontario about the unique needs and challenges facing people who have a disability in trying to access the workforce. As a result, EO has agreed to re-think its disability services strategy and now understands the need for specialized employment services for this target group.
Network members have on-going communications and meetings with MTCU Assistant Deputy Ministers, policy makers and Regional Director, Barb Simmonds. Most recently, the EO Task Force was consulted for input into revising the contract guidelines for service agreements for those agencies that provide EO services for people who have a disability. In addition, EO has made a commitment to engage the Network in the creation of their disability services strategy as it is developed.
The Network has also presented its positions related to Student Employment and the Employment First policy framework to Employment Ontario representatives.
Social Assistance Review Commission
The SAR Commission with its 108 recommendations has the potential to change the face of employment service delivery in Ontario. Not since the introduction of the VRS Act in 1974, has a single commission or act had the potential to make such wide-sweeping changes to the system.
The Network realized this potential early on and engaged the sector and the commission in a number of ways:
• Consultations and round table discussions with members and local networks
• Written submissions to the Commission
• In person presentation to the Commission
• Orchestrated a consultation between the Commission and Champion’s League members
• Position paper to the Commission that included 37 separate recommendations
• On-going telephone and email correspondence with the Commission
• Several press releases and media interviews.
For the sector and the Network the real work has only just begun, now that the Commission has released its final report.
Ministry of Finance
In evolving our understanding of the government relations arena, it has become clear that the Network cannot overlook the Ministry of Finance. This past year, the Network has started to ensure that the Minister of Finance is aware of the Network and the needs of its members. We have made submissions to the pre-budget consultation process and responded to the release of the Drummond report.
The Network continues in its effort to bring education, training and networking opportunities to its members. This past year, the Network held its Job Developers Roadmap training session in Tillsonburg along with its annual Champions for Change conference and Annual General Meeting in Alliston. We also held a number of half-day regional training events in North Bay, Kincardine and Markdale.
We have started to explore other ways to get training and materials out to members. This past year, we held our first webcast of our consultation on the Social Assistance Review Commission interim report. While we need to work out some of the glitches, this format has the potential for much greater reach in a much more affordable way.
We continue to keep our website current and interactive so that all members can use this resource. This year, we partnered with eSSENTIAL Accessibility Inc. to provide a web browser that makes our website totally accessible for people who have a disability. This has enabled the access to our website to be more efficient. We’d like to acknowledge our volunteer contributors, Aerin and Jimmy Guy of Space Race and our volunteer webmaster, Mike Adair, who make the website possible for the Network.
We are also active on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn with lots of discussion groups and ways to stay connected and up to date. Our membership email lists are also very active as we post information as soon as we get it to ensure members are ahead of the curve.
Public Relations and Media
The Network and its Executive Director have been featured a number of times this past year through press releases, newspaper articles, local TV shows and National radio interviews.
This has included articles featuring our Champion’s League and the business case for hiring people who have a disability; responses to legal and Human Rights cases related to employment and disability; the launch of the Federal Panel on Employment and Disability; our response and input into the Social Assistance Review Commission reports; letters to the editor about news stories; and general positions that have been reported in disability periodicals and reports.
All this serves to bring attention and credibility to the Ontario Disability Employment Network as we position ourselves as the ‘go to’ organization representing employment service agencies in Ontario.
A Look Ahead
We see a year with tremendous opportunity for people who have a disability. The momentum in the business community is at an all-time high. More and more businesses are coming on board, looking to include people who have a disability in the workplace. Strategies like our Champion’s League have made a substantial contribution to this momentum. As we proceed we will need to continue to both build and support the League. This will enhance our capacity tenfold.
Specifically we need to:
• Help and support taking the Lieutenant Governor’s employer panel to a formal ‘provincial employer association’
• Transition the Rotary at Work partnership to the Network. The Network has been the primary support to this initiative over the last year and it is a natural fit with our Champion’s League
• Develop new marketing strategies and specialized initiatives that engage new sectors in creating employment opportunities for people who have a disability.
• Entrench the Champion’s League in the office of the Lieutenant Governor. His Honour David C. Onley will conclude his term of office in early 2013. We need the support of this office to ensure continued credibility and support for our employer engagement strategies.
While our employer engagement strategies present a bright future, we may face significant challenges in adapting to a new government and policy environment. Our work with government will be on-going.
Already, despite the proroguing of the Legislature, government departments and branches are launching into ‘service improvements’ that are in line with the Commission’s recommendations. We must be at the table for the discussions and decisions that will be made in the coming year.
• Monitor and track activities related to the SAR Commission implementation, irrespective of government ministry or department
• Ensure our voice is heard with respect to any potential merging of employment services
• Work with the ODSP branch on system improvements
• Continue to work on the Employment Ontario disability strategy
• On-going work with the Developmental Services Branch
In addition we will continue to pursue cross-ministry strategies that relate to creating a coordinated approach to student employment and the establishment of an employment policy framework in Ontario.
To see real change in employment for people who have a disability we must invest in student employment. Summer and part-time after school jobs are imperative to ensure people who have a disability have an immediate attachment to the labour market upon graduation. Services and supports that can make this a reality must be entrenched in the system with adequate investment to achieve effective labour market participation.
The Network remains committed to ensuring members have access to the training, resources and supports that keep them vital. This can be achieved in many ways. One of our concerns is that in today’s environment, training may not always be seen as affordable or necessary by organizations that are facing financial pressures. The Network needs to re-think the way it holds conferences and training events with an eye to finding alternate ways to bring training to the sector.
We have not done the best we can when it comes to engaging our members. Members need to know what’s going on, new trends in the sector and have access to the support that will help them meet the challenges of day-to-day operations. We can do better.
The Network needs to:
• Find better and more efficient ways to engage members
• Improve member communications
• Find resources to engage at the local level
Much has been achieved in a very short period, all due to the hard work and diligence of a few committed volunteers. We must continue to dig in as we strive to improve the employment prospects of people who have a disability.
The challenge, however, lies ahead in what may be our most critical of times. We remain dedicated and committed to undertaking this work. We cannot do it alone and we need your input and assistance. Without a strong membership base, we will not be successful.
We encourage you and your organization to join forces with the Ontario Disability Employment Network. Help us maintain our ‘Habit of Excellence’.
Bob Vansickle, Chair
(Click here to view/download .pdf file)