An interesting article from the Globe and Mail outlining some success stories, and why companies will benefit from rethinking their hiring and H/R strategies: “Working wisdom: How workers with disabilities give companies an edge”
An interesting article from the Globe and Mail outlining some success stories, and why companies will benefit from rethinking their hiring and H/R strategies: “Working wisdom: How workers with disabilities give companies an edge”
IF CHIEF executives won medals, Justin King of J. Sainsbury, a British supermarket chain, would be sporting a gold in the marketing marathon for his prescient decision to concentrate sponsorship on the Paralympics rather than the glitzier Olympics. The plaudits he and other companies have received for backing what was previously seen as a sideshow could help change corporate attitudes to disability. (Click to read more: http://www.economist.com/node/21562229)
A follow up article by Alison Griffiths was recently published in response to Mark Wafer’s recent comments. This is great material that also outlines the benefits to hiring workers who have a disability. Read “This Tim Hortons franchisee hired 82 disabled workers” here.
For Immediate Release
Yes, it’s possible to save taxpayers millions while getting more people who have a disability into the workforce
What is the greatest barrier to people who have a disability finding and retaining jobs? The ‘system’ itself, according to the Ontario Disability Employment Network.
Ontario spends $3.3 billion a year on disability income support, a figure that’s growing at a rate of 5% a year. Yet, it’s frustratingly difficult for many people who have a disability to find a meaningful place in the economy because of systemic roadblocks.
The Network recently released a report to Ontario’s Social Assistance Review Commission that includes 37 recommendations aimed at helping more people who have a disability find work, while also saving taxpayers millions.
According to Statistics Canada, 15.9% of Canadians have a disability and a staggering 49% of adults who have a disability are not in the workforce. Helping them get jobs is good for all of us because it reduces dependency on social assistance and allows them to contribute to the tax base.
Fixing the system – an encompassing term for the myriad of government departments and ministries that fund employment – doesn’t have to be difficult. Many of the Network’s practical recommendations identify savings, in many cases without the investment of new resources.
Some recommendations are simple administrative changes, such as eliminating the requirement for a second eligibility approval for those who receive income support but want help finding a job.
Some recommendations are more complex and will take longer to implement. The Network’s top 5 recommendations include:
Don Drummond is on the right track with his recommendations to streamline administration. However, his understanding about what’s needed to accommodate people with disabilities in the workplace is somewhat naïve. Services that help people who have a disability get into the workforce have been operating in Ontario for almost 40 years. But the Province’s fragmented approach to disability funding and related policy has made the provision of employment services for this group virtually unmanageable.
The Network supports the Drummond recommendation to transfer responsibility for employment programs to Employment Ontario given the following parameters:
“Between projected labour shortages and increasing acceptance of people who have a disability in the workplace, we are optimistic for the future, provided we can get the system on track.”
While the Network awaits further discussion with the Social Assistance Review Commission, it fears next week’s provincial budget will circumvent the Commission’s work by adopting the Drummond recommendation to transfer services to Employment Ontario.
To read the Ontario Disability Employment Network’s full report and recommendations go to: http://www.odenetwork.com/library/submission-to-the-social-assistance-review-commission/
For more information, contact:
I read your article this morning. I am a Tim Hortons franchise owner and an
advocate for people with disabilities especially in the area of employment.
Your daughter’s story is one I hear all the time.
Having met Jim Flaherty a few times and discussed this issue with him I can
say without question he does get it. He gets the problem of employment and
he gets the overall cost factor.
I am deaf. I have about 20% hearing and have been since birth. I could not
keep a job as a young man but became a successful business owner. Since I
understand first hand the barriers people with disabilities face in order to
get work, I began hiring people with disabilities in my first Tim Hortons in
1995 and to date I have hired 82 PWD’s and currently have 33 out of a
workforce of 210 in my six locations.
Why did I do this? Simply because I saw a business benefit as time went on.
Of course it was the right thing to do but that isn’t reason enough for
business owners to hire PWD’s. My employee turnover went down, my WSIB
claims went down.
I quickly realized that employing PWD’s was good for business, low
absenteeism, higher staff morale, lower turnover (very expensive), higher
productivity and so on. Several of my employees with disabilities have been
employee of the year.
All are in meaningful positions, no charity. That means competitive salaries
as well as having to be replaced if sick. This includes every department
from managers to front line staff, production and logistics.
In 2008 I began a program through my local Rotary club along with the
programs founder Joe Dale. This is known as Rotary at Work.
Joe, who is a past director of Community Living Ontario, developed this
program that shows business owners how they will benefit from hiring PWD’s.
Joe and I travel the province speaking at Rotary clubs, chambers of
commerce, HR groups and to private business owners. This is a peer to peer
program as business owners are hearing from myself as a business owner.
The result since 2009 is huge. 137 people with a disability hired in a
meaningful position with many more at Tim Hortons stores as I was able to
leverage my position.
Now we know that this is the way forward. We cannot use the same old message
that service providers have used in the past. The unemployment rate for
people with disabilities is the same today as it was in 1970 so clearly it
isn’t working but if we can show business owners that there is a benefit to
hiring PWD’s we will see a lot more doors opened.
Here are a few more facts, studies show that employees who have a disability
work 97% safer, have attendance records 86% greater, stay on the job up to 5
times longer, increase morale to the point that non disabled staff stay
longer (huge win for me). Accommodations average $500 but in most cases its
zero and best of all productivity is 20% higher.
Why? Because the job is precious, it took a long time to get that job.
I cannot buy the loyalty my disabled staff have for my company. What
business would not want this? Education is going to be key.
Now let’s look at the financial side of this problem. The unemployment rate
for PWD’s is actually closer to 70% because so many have given up or are
considered unemployable. The unemployment rate during the great depression
was 25% and was considered a national tragedy yet society is comfortable
with a 70%rate for PWD’s. This equates to an ODSP cost to the province of
Ontario of $3.2b. This is growing at 5% per year, totally unsustainable and
this is why the province set up the review commission on ODSP and welfare.
However, even though this number is huge it also means that the maximum
payment for an unemployed person with a disability is about $11,000
annually. Well below poverty and that’s only if they qualify for the maximum.
Taking a person off of benefits and creating a new taxpayer is a win/win.
The 137 people who got employment thru our project saved the province $1m in
Employers don’t hire people with disabilities because they buy into a series
of myths and misperceptions. This is exactly why Quinn isn’t getting a job;
it has nothing to do with her work experience and all to do with attitude.
My best baker is deaf. Her ovens have chimes, bells and warnings. This
hasn’t prevented her from being an awesome addition to our staff. In one day
she figured out how to get around those audible warnings.
PWD’s are more innovative. Quite frankly a person in a wheelchair has to be
innovative just to get through the day, imagine how that mindset helps a pod
or team at a workplace.
Alison, we are going to fix this problem. It will take time, education is
the key. The AODA will now be focusing on employment, this in itself won’t
help as the legislation is toothless (story for another day) but it will
provide much needed awareness. Canada has a looming labour shortage with
many companies noticing this already yet still don’t hire PWD’s. There is a
huge disconnect but we will fix it.
Best of luck to Quinn. Her attitude, not an employers, will win at the end
of the day.
Canada Summer Jobs 2012
“Creating jobs, strengthening communities”
Canada Summer Jobs is a Government of Canada initiative that provides funding to help employers create summer job opportunities for students. It is designed to focus on local priorities, while helping both students and their communities.
About Canada Summer Jobs 2012
Canada Summer Jobs:
* provides work experiences for students;
* supports organizations, including those that provide important community services; and
* recognizes that local circumstances, community needs and priorities vary widely.
Canada Summer Jobs provides funding to not-for-profit organizations, public-sector employers and small businesses with 50 or fewer employees to create summer job opportunities for young people aged 15 to 30 years who are full-time students intending to return to their studies in the next school year.
The application period for Canada Summer Jobs 2012 is from February 1 to February 29, 2012.
NOTE: To obtain more information please call 1-800-935-5555 or see www.servicecanada.gc.ca criteria. The criteria to assess the proposals focus on:
* service to local communities;
* jobs that support local priorities
* jobs that provide career-related experience or early work experience;
* jobs with a salary that contributes to the student’s income;
* employers who provide supervision and mentoring;
* project activities that are directed toward members of, and support the vitality of, an Official Language Minority Community; and
* employers who intend to hire priority students (students with disabilities, Aboriginal students and students who are members of visible
How to apply for Canada Summer Jobs
Before completing an application, employers must consult the Canada Summer Jobs Applicant Guide and review the local priorities for their constituencies. To help employers complete their application, the Canada Summer Jobs Applicant Guide and the local priorities are available online at: www.servicecanada.gc.ca , by calling 1-800-935-5555, or by visiting any Service Canada Centre.
The Applicant Guide contains the following information for employers:
* eligibility criteria;
* instructions for completing the Canada Summer Jobs application;
* the assessment process; and
* the approval process.
Employers can apply online or print an application from the website. They can also get an application by visiting any Service Canada Centre. The deadline for applications is February 29, 2012.
The online application process is quick and easy. An electronic confirmation number of successful receipt will be generated once the online application is submitted. Employers must keep this number for future reference.
Download a paper application form:
Employers can download a printable form. Completed applications may be submitted in person, by mail, or by fax, at any Service Canada Centre.
Completed applications may be submitted using one of the following methods:
Online: Applications must be submitted on February 29, 2012, 23:59 Pacific Time. Applying online is quick and easy.
In person: Applications must be received before the closing time of the local Service Canada Centre on February 29, 2012.*
By mail: Applications must be postmarked on or before February 29, 2012.*
By fax: Applications must be faxed to a Service Canada Centre by February 29, 2012, 23:59 local time.*
*An employer submitting a paper application in person, by mail or by fax will receive a letter of acknowledgement.
The deadline for applications is February 29, 2012. Applications received or postmarked after the closing date of February 29, 2012, will not be assessed.
View a .pdf of the article here: http://www.odenetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Mayors-support-inclusive-hirin1.pdf
Assessment of Debt Load and Financial Barriers Affecting Students with Disabilities in Canadian Postsecondary Education – Ontario Report
An article from Jan. 28, 2011 discussing the positive impact hiring people who have a disability has had on businesses through the ‘Rotary at Work’ initiative.
Jan. 27, 2011 article. Consider discussing hiring people with a disability at your next business meeting.
Five important tips to promote employment for people who have a disability.
Some barriers facing job seekers who have a disability involve myths about the difficulty of including them in the workplace.
(From “Six Steps to Marketing Employment for People Who Have a Disability” by Joe Dale,
1. Employees who have a disability rate average or above average in performance ratings.
2. A Harris study showed that 46% of employers say that workers who have a disability work harder than
3. Over two-thirds of job accommodations cost less than $500.
4. Less than 4% of people who have a disability require any physical accommodations at all.
5. Less than 2% of people who have a disability use a wheelchair or scooter as their primary mode of
6. According to a DuPont survey of employees, those who have a disability have average or above average
7. 97% of workers who have a disability rate as average to above average in terms of safety on the job.
8. A UK study showed that people who have a disability, their family and close relations comprise 25% of the
9. Hiring workers who have a disability does not adversely affect an employer’s WSIB premiums
10. Workers who have a disability are 5x’s more likely to stay on the job than people who do not have a
11. A Harris study found that 39% of workers who have a disability to be more reliable than other workers.
12. 15% of the Canadian population has a disability.
Disability in the Workplace: Part 3 – by Joe Dale, CIM
Businesses often say they don’t understand the employment system for people who have a disability or how to make decisions about which agency to work with. This article give some insights to what employers should look for when choosing the right agency to meet the support needs of their employees who have a disability.
Throughout my years of promoting disability in the workplace I have often heard employers complain: “I don’t understand the services for people with disabilities and how they work” or make statements like: “why can’t there just be one service where I can find all the candidates who have a disability and all the services I need”. Personally, I‟m not a proponent of this “one-stop shopping” concept. I think this would quickly lead to mediocrity. People don’t make similar statements about the myriad of car manufacturers, models, number of dealers, etc. or the number of stationary and computer suppliers. Businesses tend to make their purchase decisions based on an assessment of value – price, quality, reliability, customer service and so on.
Perhaps the real question is; “how do I make this kind of value assessment of an employment agency representing people who have a disability” given there are some unique qualities to these services. Hopefully this article will help take some of the mystery out of this question.
What To Look For
In many respects employment agencies representing people who have a disability should be viewed like any other placement agency (with a specialty niche). Employers need to do their homework, shop around, check references, etc. There are, however, some indicators to watch for.
The agency representative or job developer should do some research before they make their first call. Do they know something about your business, your operations and the type of workforce you need? In the first few meetings do they dig for information about your labour needs – skill shortages, high turnover, problem areas, etc? Ultimately they should be striving to achieve a winwin relationship where you get the employees and supports you need and their clientele get good jobs. And, if they follow this up with quality customer service they establish a relationship with the prospect of repeat business. If it’s only about their needs or the needs of their clientele, you can rightfully be wary.
Many employment agencies follow the supported employment model. This is a model where the agency provides supports to both the employer and the person who has a disability. Agencies may provide many, and sometimes all, of the services below.
Supports for employers include: pre-screening candidates to ensure a good match for the job; initial on-the-job training and orientation for the new employee, supervisors and co-workers; information about workplace modifications if needed; re-training when job changes occur; trouble shooting and on-going support as needed; and, information about government programs and wage subsidies. And, while employment agencies generally don’t use the term outplacement, many will assist their clientele find a new job if things don’t work out.
Supports for people who have a disability include: pre-employment preparation such as career exploration, understanding workplace responsibilities, punctuality, etiquette, etc; resume writing; job search assistance; and, personal assistance with things like finances, transit, family support and so on. While some of these services are not strictly work-related they often affect the person‟s success on the job. Over the years I’ve had employers ask if similar services could be made available to their non-disabled workers as well.
When an employment agency comes calling, ask them to review their services with you to ensure you know what type of support is available for you and your new employee.
Not all employment agencies are equal and there are some poor practices as well – practices I refer to as “desperate measures”.
Voluntarism: Some types of unpaid work are okay: volunteering in traditional places – food banks, Scouts and Guides, hospital auxiliaries, etc; and, short-term work experiences like school co-ops. Short-term, time limited placements that are closely supervised by the agency to assess skills and interests are valuable and appropriate.
What’s not appropriate is when people who have a disability work in long term positions in the private sector without a wage or for wages that are less than that established by law. Employers, that permit this, risk costly law suits and back wages should the individual in question get tired of working for nothing and lodges a complaint with the Ministry of Labour.
The Charity Case: It’s easy to see how people just want to “do the right thing” but the right thing has to be right for everyone. The employee who has a disability must be contributing to your business objectives through their performance and the other assets they bring to the job – greater dependability, enhanced staff morale, positive customer relations, corporate PR, etc. Hiring strictly as an act of charity rarely works out longer term. Co-workers become resentful that they are being paid at a similar rate to someone who doesn’t contribute as much; supervisors and managers get frustrated by having an employee on their team that isn’t fully contributing; and, ultimately, when business takes a downturn these employees are the first to be let go.
Job Coach Dependency: Job coaches can be a terrific asset when integrating a new employee into your workplace. They can orient supervisors and co-workers to understand the disability and help develop strategies to get the most from that employee. However, there are job coaches who feel they are the “only” one who can adequately train and support the employee with a disability and these coaches tend to overstay their welcome. A good job coach will always have an exit strategy. They should not create a dependency on themselves. This coach can become a barrier between you and the employee thereby limiting the more natural interactions between you and the benefits you will derive from those interactions. After the job coach is no longer on site they should be available on an on-call basis if needed.
Joe Dale has worked in the area of disability and employment for over 30 years. Currently Joe is
the President of Vision Consulting, Executive Director of the Ontario Disability Employment
Network and Manager of Ontario’s Rotary at Work initiative. Provide feedback or comments to
Disability in the Workplace: Part 2 – by Joe Dale, CIM
Corporate leaders have a role to play in promoting the inclusion of people who have a disability in the workplace. Several corporately sponsored initiatives designed to educate businesses about the value of including people who have a disability have been launched in recent years.
The following is the second of a three-part series on disability in the workplace. In Part One: The Economic Case the author reviewed the demographics of the Canadian workforce and highlighted the financial impacts of not increasing participation rates for this segment of the population and pointed out some of the benefits of including people who have a disability in the workforce.
For many years community employment agencies faced the daunting challenges of marketing their services and the people they represented to the business sector. For the most part they were ill equipped; with little marketing or sales expertise, few resources to apply to marketing programs and, for the most part, faced an uninformed and unreceptive audience. Business operators didn’t understand disability or why they should consider people who have a disability in their workplace.
Early on employment service operators learned that, given this lack of expertise and resources, the best way to reach employers was with a business to business approach. But the challenge was in finding champions – business leaders of stature and profile – who understood the issues and why people who have a disability should be included in the workforce and who were prepared to take on this cause. There were a few early champions like Gar Bauer of Loblaw Companies. Gar worked diligently to develop strategies and programs to include people who have a disability in Loblaw’s grocery stores.
In the early to mid 2000’s a new awareness seemed to come to the attention of the business sector. Corporate leaders began talking about disability and accessibility issues. Equity departments and programs now included disability along with the other major equity groups – women, visible minorities and aboriginals.
And finally, in the last few years corporate leaders began to see a role for themselves in promoting the inclusion of people who have a disability in the workplace. The following is just a brief synopsis of some employer awareness campaigns – primarily those driven by the business sector – that are in play in Ontario.
The Honourable David C. Onley, O. Ont. www.lt.gov.on.ca/en/default.asp was appointed as Ontario’s 28th Lieutenant Governor in September 2007 and one can’t overlook its significance. As a person who himself lives with polio and post polio syndrome he represents both a role model and strong advocate on behalf of people who have a disability. His Honour is our most visible champion on accessibility and disability issues and routinely delivers a strong message about accessibility and the need to include people who have a disability in the workforce to business audiences, service clubs and community groups.
Partnering with the likes of BELL, IBM Canada, Tim Hortons, Oracle and a number of the big financial institutions, Toronto’s Job Opportunities Information Network has sponsored a Business Leadership Network (BLN) www.joininfo.ca/about-us. As with most BLNs in North America and the UK, Toronto’s BLN plays a leadership role in ensuring the ongoing hiring of people who have a disability and has a mandate to address education and awareness, accessibility, workplace accommodations and information about the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Rotary at Work www.rotaryatwork.com is a unique partnership between Community Living Ontario and Rotary Clubs in Ontario. Through education and awareness presentations to Rotary Clubs and individual Rotarians, the needs and the benefits of including people who have a
disability in the workplace are identified. The project aims to persuade Rotarians, as community-minded business leaders, to include people who have a disability in their candidate pool when hiring and to champion this cause with their parent corporations and business colleagues.
Business Takes Action (BTA) www.businesstakesaction.ca is a Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association initiative aimed at promoting the benefits of hiring qualified people who have a disability to meet skill shortages. This program was created and is steered by the business community. Their mandate is to provide the tools and resources that employers need to remove physical and attitudinal barriers associated with recruiting, training, accommodating and hiring people who have a disability.
The Ability First Coalition www.abilityfirst.on.ca is a business-to-business partnership that aims to bring business people together to share best practices and experiences related to hiring and retaining people with disabilities. The Ability First Coalition provides resources for employers interested in making a commitment to hiring people with disabilities so that these they can find the organizations and the resources that can help them honour that commitment.
The Ministry of Community and Social Services’ Don’t Waste Talent www.ontario.ca/DontWasteTalent has two portals – one for employers looking to hire and one for people who have a disability looking for work. The Employer portal targets larger corporations and is dedicated to helping them: understand what hiring people with disabilities can bring to their business; learn tips to make their workplace and hiring practices more inclusive; and, connect with an organization that can help them find a qualified candidates.
One might conclude that, between increasing awareness and growing demand, the future looks bright for people who have a disability. Unfortunately, with unemployment rates at a staggering 49% and participation rates in the Federally Regulated Private Sector at only 2.7% *, it’s easy to understand why people who have a disability might be growing impatient.
So why are participation rates virtually unchanged since 1995 and the unemployment rate more than 5 times the provincial average? One might just look to the some of the principle sponsors of these various awareness campaigns – large corporations.
In a recent survey of employment agencies only 8% of 1,400 job placements in the last 12 months were in large businesses (over 250 employees). Is it that small and medium sized businesses already know and understand the benefits of including people who have a disability in the workforce? Are they more flexible and better in tune with the communities in which they operate?
In the words of one business owner with a solid track record for hiring people who have a disability: “diversity is becoming a sexy word for human resource departments in large companies to show they are world class. Unfortunately that doesn’t help the disabled unless something is actually happening. I recently visited a Canadian company, very well regarded, with a cool diversity program that had not hired any disabled employees because they were still “looking into it” four years after inception. However the glossy handouts were “awesome”.
* 2008 annual report of the Federal Employment Equity Act
Best Practices in Employment Services
Government Policy – Enabler or Added Barrier
Joe Dale has worked in the disability field for over 30 years with much of that time dedicated to
addressing issues related to disability in the workplace. Currently Joe is the Executive Director
of the Ontario Disability Employment Network and Manager of Ontario’s Rotary at Work
To provide feedback or to contact the author email email@example.com
Disability in the Workplace: Part 1 – by Joe Dale, CIM
At almost 16% of the population, people who have a disability represent the largest minority in Canada yet face a 49% unemployment rate. Increasing workforce participation rates for this segment of the population can positively impact your bottom line and help address Canada’s projected labour shortage.
Statistics Canada pegs people who have a disability at 15.9% of the Canadian population. That’s Canada’s largest minority at almost 5.3 million people – equal to the combined populations of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Furthermore, disability is a factor of aging and 43% of seniors have disabilities growing to 56% for 75 year olds. Statistics Canada has projected that by 2021 Canadians over the age of 65 will grow from the 2006 level of 13.7% to between 20 and 24% of the population.
Currently there are almost 1.8 million working age people who have a disability in Ontario alone. According to Statistics Canada this group faces an unemployment rate of 49% although we know that if people who have never been able to access the labour market were included this figure would be considerably higher.
Besides a 2001 Royal Bank study that showed Canadians who have a disability control over $25 billion in disposable income we must surely be concerned that as many people who have a disability as possible contribute to the workforce and the tax base. The alternative, that these people live on social assistance payments, is untenable.
Labour Shortage and Decline in GDP
The Conference Board of Canada predicts a labour shortage of nearly one million workers in Canada by 2020 and economic think tank Global Insight forecasts this acute labour shortage will cause a decline in Canada’s GDP from the current 3.2% to 2%. Canada is second of all industrialized nations in the severity of this problem, surpassed only by Mexico.
This decline in GDP will adversely affect the standard of living for all Canadians. Yet it seems that governments and corporations look primarily to immigration and expensive foreign worker programs as a solution to this problem. Clearly, consideration as to how we can increase participation rates of people who have a disability in the workforce must be part of the solution to what Prime Minister Steven Harper calls Canada’s number one economic problem.
High Cost of Employee Turnover
San Francisco based Taleo – Workforce Management Solutions estimates the cost of employee turnover ranges from 30% to as much as 150% of the annual salary of each position that turns over. Even a conservative estimate that the average turnover cost is equal to a worker’s annual salary has a huge financial impact on a business. Taleo gives this example: “for a company with 100,000 employees at an average salary of $40,000 and a turnover rate of ten percent, the cost of that turnover equals $400 million. A reduction in turnover of one-half percent would result in savings of $2 million dollars”.
According to a Pizza Hut Corporation study, workers who have a disability are five times more likely to stay on the job than workers without disabilities. Toronto-based Tim Hortons franchise owner, Mark Wafer cites the average tenure of his employees who have a disability as just over 6 years on the job compared to an average of just under one year for his non-disabled employees.
The Innovation Factor
In business, innovation can be defined as the successful exploitation of new ideas. And where better to look for innovation than the human capital within a diverse workforce. There are endless examples of innovation resulting from disability and disability-based research. In his latest novel Design Meets Disability, Graham Pullin cites Apple’s new i-Phone Shuffle based on voiceover interface research for people with visual disabilities and British fashion designer Paul Smith’s work on re-designing hearing aids as fashion accessories. But innovation as a response to meeting the needs of people who have a disability is not new. One only has to look at Thomas Edison who invented the gramophone to record books for his mother who couldn’t read to know that there are great innovations and profits to be made in meeting the needs of this market segment.
The Competitive Advantage
All of these items roll up to giving businesses with pro-active hiring practices a significant advantage over the competition. Developing the expertise of this important market segment is key to future success. Ensuring managers and employees have an understanding of their product and service needs and a comfort level in dealing with people who have a disability as customers will add to the bottom line. At the same time, accessing a largely untapped labour pool with a reputation for superior employer loyalty and lower turnover rates will cut costs.
Employer Awareness and Acceptance on the Rise
Best Practices in Employment Services
Government Policy – Enabler or Added Barrier
To provide feedback or to contact the author email firstname.lastname@example.org
My personal experiences go back to the mid 70’s which just happens to be close to the advent of sheltered workshops and community employment services for people who have a disability in Ontario so let’s start there – in the beginning, so to speak.
The 70’s: Proliferation of the Sheltered Workshop System
In the 70’s we had Federally-funded and operated Canada Manpower Centres and Provincially funded Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS) and Developmental Services (DS), both under the umbrella of the Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS).
At the time the Canada Manpower Centre was where most people went when they were looking for work. I remember standing in front of the job posting boards where employers placed their job ads, jotting down referral numbers and lining up to see a counsellor hoping he or she would give me the details of the jobs I had selected and not screen me out because my credentials didn’t quite meet the employer’s requirements. Although I personally never had the opportunity I understand you could also be referred to training programs. And, of course the other big service at the Canada Manpower Centre was the administration of Employment Insurance (EI) claims.
While anyone could utilize the services of the Canada Manpower Centre the focus was clearly on the traditional ‘unemployed’ which quickly came to mean those in receipt of EI – ‘on the dole’ as the expression goes.
The VRS Act funded two primary services – Employment Counselling for people who struggled with the mainstream Canada Manpower process and Sheltered Workshops. VRS Employment Counselling was operated directly by the Provincial Government and available to people with employment barriers including sole-support mothers, people in trouble with the law, high school dropouts, welfare recipients and people who had a disability. At the time, Ontario was not the multi-cultural place it is today and didn’t see a need for the array of immigrant services we currently have.
Although I didn’t realize it back in the day, the target audience of VRS Employment Counselling was clearly those in receipt of welfare.
The VRS Act also funded sheltered workshops. This was done through provincial transfer payments to non-profit and charitable organizations like the March of Dimes, Goodwill Industries, Associations for Community Living and others. Sheltered Workshops were segregated centres where people who had a disability performed work contracts that the agencies arranged with private businesses. This was usually done under the auspices of ‘training’, although people rarely graduated and typically received weekly stipends ranging from $5 to $40.
The Ontario government passed the DS Act in 1974 and, over time, many vocational services for people who had an intellectual disability – sheltered workshops and later, supported employment programs – transferred to, or were established under, that act. This was also done through transfer payments to charitable organizations, primarily Community Living Associations, who ran these sheltered workshops under the ARC Industries banner. This is where I first cut my teeth in the disability field in 1976.
Throughout the 70’s sheltered workshops grew and flourished under these two funding streams. At the time, it was not understood that people who had a disability were capable of holding regular paid jobs and most of those who went to the Canada Manpower Centres or VRS Employment Counsellors were typically referred to a sheltered workshop.
The 80’s: A Time of Reckoning
By the early 80’s government was concerned about the lack of productivity, poor revenues and lack of flow through as people seemed to go to these workshops and never leave. Costs were escalating and anticipated revenues were not realized. There was also a growing awareness that other models of non-segregated options were emerging in many communities and critics began to publicly refer to these workshops as sweat shops.
At the same time ‘employees’ of sheltered workshops went to the courts accusing their operators of unfair labour practices. Although the judgments did not support the position that the disabled workers should be treated as ‘employees’ for the purposes of competitive remuneration, they advised that sheltered workplaces should provide ‘trainees’ measurable training programs if they were to avoid future litigation. This potential liability provided further incentive for the provincial government to look to reform the existing sheltered workshop system.
In 1982 an MCSS task force launched the critical “Review of the Sheltered Workshop System in Ontario”. Based on the results of this study, business advisory agencies were set up around the province to help sheltered workshops improve their business practices and earn more revenue. Agencies like IBMS (Industrial Business and Management Services) later to become CMCS (Central Marketing Consulting Services and eventually Centre for Management of Community Services) were established in 1984. But they were barely out of the gate when the supported employment model hit the scene.
A strategy, promoted primarily by advocates of people who had an intellectual disability, the supported employment model challenged the thinking of the day. This model asserted that, with the right supports, people who had a disability could, in fact, hold down paying jobs. It also challenged the notion that people had to engage in never-ending training and prove their capability before being given the chance to work. Rather, it put forth the ‘place and train’ model based on the belief that: ‘most people learn to work on the job’.
Toward the end of the 80’s government, still concerned about the vast number of people who were occupied in sheltered workshops and potential liability, launched the ‘minimum wage project’. This trial, which was piloted in a few regions of the Province, looked at the combined income of workshop earnings and disability benefits, and topped this up to ensure the combined income was equal to minimum wage. While it is uncertain as to whether or not this would have avoided future lawsuits, it proved to be very expensive and sheltered workshops struggled to make significant financial improvements that could contribute to these costs.
The 90’s: Age of Enlightenment
By the late 80’s and early 90’s government, seeing the success of supported employment and realizing that sheltered workshops would never achieve the goal of self sufficiency and fair remuneration for their participants got on board. The ‘Alternatives to Sheltered Workshops’ task force was launched and policies were developed to encourage and support this model. A former Director of Policy for MCSS was even so bold as to say: “There will be no more sheltered workshops in Ontario”.
The success of the supported employment model was evident and it continued to grow throughout the 90’s and into the 2000’s. In a 2003 study that followed 2,500 people who had a disability that engaged employment agencies for assistance to get a job, people who had an intellectual disability were the most successful of all disability groups at both finding and retaining their jobs, due in large part to the supported employment model. Based on its success this model was quickly adopted by many organizations that supported other types of disabilities. While the specific strategies and interventions varied – expertise and supports for someone with a spinal cord injury are vastly different from those for someone who has an intellectual disability or a hearing impairment, etc. – the model was seen to be flexible and adaptable.
One by one, sheltered workshops closed and the few remaining diminished over time as most were in phase out mode, closing their doors to new admissions. Resources were diverted to supported employment programs and life skills and community activity programs for those who did not want to work.
But for some people who have a disability, finding a job is difficult and financing the necessary supports and accommodations expensive. And for many – people who have a disability, parents and staff of service agencies – change is difficult. Sheltered workshops were, for the most part, safe and stable. The debate as to whether to abandon the sheltered workshop system altogether and reinvest those resources in non-sheltered alternatives such as Supported Employment or to retain the system in its existing or modified form continues to rage on, both amongst service providers and within MCSS, to this day.
The 2000’s: Time to Shake Things Up a Bit!
1999 brought with it an entirely new construct for employment services and the not-for-profit agencies that provided them. The VRS act was repealed and replaced by the Ontario Disability Supports Program (ODSP) act. And by 2001 the ODSP Employment Supports (ODSP-ES) program was launched. Agencies were faced with a fee-for-service business model and the private sector was invited to compete in what had previously been sacra sancta for not-for-profit organizations. Three short years later the ODSP-ES program was refined and a new ‘pay for jobs’ system was established. Under this model employment agencies were only paid once an individual was successfully placed in a paid job.
One can’t argue with the fact that this forced agencies to be more accountable to achieve an employment outcome for those they serve – no job, no funding. On the flip side, however, are the pitfalls that unfortunately fall on the shoulders of the job seeker who has a disability.
Three problems face people who have a disability:
* The first assessment an agency is forced to make is: “Will it cost me more to find this person a job, and support them to retain it, than the government will pay me? In fact, who’s going to pay me for the time it will take me to reasonably assess and answer this question?”
Clearly this scenario leaves people who have more significant disabilities, where it may require more time and more support to find and retain a job, at a disadvantage. The resulting creaming effect defines job seekers as either ‘profitable’ or ‘money losers’ for employment agencies. Those who are not ‘profitable’ often face agencies that declare they are unable to provide the needed assistance and therefore continue to be excluded from the workforce.
* The second pitfall in the pay for jobs model is that any job is good enough for an agency to be paid. Much less attention is given to job quality and consumer satisfaction in this model – the quicker the placement, the greater the profit – resulting in a plethora of part-time, entry level jobs.
* A third issue is that agencies can no longer afford to provide the level of on-going support that some individuals need, often affecting their ability to retain their job or create a meaningful career path.
And to all this, add a poor economy to exacerbate the challenges.
While the Canadian Human Rights code and, soon to be, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act guarantees in law, the right to equal and fair access to employment opportunities there is no such right, or entitlement, to the necessary services and supports that many people who have a disability and/or employers need to ensure a successful job outcome.
Is there a solution to these challenges? Some of the more creative and often most successful operators have pieced together a complete employment service package by attracting funding from several of these government sources. Financing pre-employment preparation and training with funding from Employment Ontario and/or Service Canada’s Opportunities fund; job placement with funding from ODSP-ES; and, long term supports with funding from DS may not be an ideal way to operate, but if your primary concern is for the quality of service your clientele receives and good outcomes, you do what you need to do. Unfortunately agencies that currently receive funding from multiple government sources may soon be at risk.
2010 and Beyond: Age of Confusion
In 2008, the Canada-Ontario Labour Market Agreement was enacted, resulting in the transfer of responsibility and funding from the Feds to the Province. As described on the EO web site: “services under both Canada-Ontario labour market agreements will help Ontarians receive the skills training and supports they need to succeed in the workplace, including unemployed individuals (whether or not they are eligible for EI), newcomers into the job market, internationally-trained individuals working in low-skill jobs, and persons with disabilities.”
Since 2008, Employment Ontario has been developing a strategic plan to deliver these services. In January 2010 its service strategy for job seekers other than those who have a disability were announced and the disability strategy is anticipated to be announced later this year. However, a few key themes are clear:
* The government wants to streamline what appears to be a confusing delivery system and, in so doing, reduce the number of service contracts held with employment agencies.
* The government also wants to move to a generic ‘one-stop shop’ for the delivery of employment services – one door that all people who want to get a job, regardless of their barriers or challenges, will go through.
In theory, the one-stop shop may make sense but at least three questions remain outstanding: Will the expertise that has been developed over the last 25years by specialized disability agencies be lost? How much better will these Employment Ontario agencies be at servicing people who have a disability than its predecessor – Canada Manpower Centres? And ultimately, what will this mean to job seekers who have a disability?
On yet another front MCSS just released a new program for people who have an intellectual disability – Person-Directed Planning. The service objectives of this program are designed to:
* Increase the ability of adults with a developmental disability to direct the planning of their daily living to meet their own life vision and goals.
* Develop a person-directed plan that focuses on their participation in the community, including training and education, skills acquisition and the ability to obtain paid work or work experience/activities (e.g., volunteer work or sheltered workshops).
Without belabouring the point suffice it to say that, in this writer’s experience, ‘volunteer work’ adds to the barriers facing job seekers who have a disability and is fraught with perils. Equally surprising for most of us in the disability field, is that it’s been a long time since we’ve heard or seen sheltered workshops promoted as an acceptable option for people who have a disability.
The Pendulum Swings
What goes around comes around. We started with a one-stop shopping model with the Canada Manpower Centres. We built what appears to be a confusing and complex system of disability specific Employment Agencies with multiple funding models. And in 2010 we’re back to a one-stop shopping model administered by Employment Ontario. Let’s just hope that in the name of efficiency, streamlining and cost savings, we don’t miss the point about whose lives are at stake.
I’d like to think that we’ve learned a few things in the last 40 years – about the capacity of people who have a disability and the benefits of inclusion.
As for the move from the segregated sheltered workshops of the 70’s to more dignified, less costly, paid employment in the private sector and back to sheltered workshops in 2010… Do I need say more?
About the Author
Joe Dale has worked in the area of disability and employment for over 30 years. Currently Joe is the President of Vision Consulting, Executive Director of the Ontario Disability Employment Network and Manager of Ontario’s Rotary at Work initiative.
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