Canada is expected to see a worker shortfall of as many as 2 million people in the next 10 years. While immigration is part of the solution, there is another major, and largely untapped, resource for our businesses: Canadians with disabilities.
Almost 22 per cent of Canadians over the age of 15 live with a disability, making us one of the largest minorities in the country. The most recent national stats show that only 59 per cent of Canadian adults with a disability are employed compared to 80 per cent of those without disability. Nearly 645,000 individuals with a disability have the potential to work in an inclusive labour market.
As we mark National Disability Employment Awareness Month, it’s time for a change. For us to be a part of the workforce, our governments must invest in programs that enable youth to access skills training, counselling and other vital supports.
We know young people need early work experience and skills training to gain confidence and become successfully employed. Youth with disabilities can face multiple hurdles in their journeys to gainful employment and research shows that early work experiences and supported employment interventions lead to better employment outcomes..
And yet, in Ontario, system gaps put youth with disabilities attending high school or post-secondary education at a disadvantage. Typical youth employment services don’t have disability-inclusive supports such as counselling about how to request accommodations or job coaching for employees and employers. Youth programs that are specialized, personalized and comprehensive – combining employment readiness training with work experience opportunities, coaching and wrap-around supports – are usually targeted for youth who are no longer in school.
People with disabilities must innovate every single day to survive – who better to hire in innovation spaces?
Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital is one organization filling this gap with a range of supported employment services for youth with disabilities, their families and employers. Delivered by a multidisciplinary team, these programs include seasonal and part-time paid and volunteer work experience, skills training, mentoring and coaching in interpersonal communication, behavioural self-monitoring, problem solving, transportation and workplace policies and procedures. They also provide support for families and an Employer Resource Hub for organizations seeking to diversify their workforces.
Carolyn McDougall, who leads the hospital’s youth employment programs, says these supports are only possible because of donors like the Azrieli Foundation. The Foundation’s grant of $3 million will fund ground-breaking research into best practices for youth employment support and drive change for Ontario youth with disabilities.
As a student who lives with ADHD and a physical disability that requires using a wheelchair, these services helped me achieve the skills and confidence needed to set me on the road to a successful career.
I became involved with Holland Bloorview’s employment support programs because I wanted to find out how I should disclose my disability in a job interview. In 2018 I joined the Youth@Work program and learned about vital components including disclosure and teamwork. And in 2019 and 2020 I participated in the Ready to Work program, which helped me secure summer internships.
These programs made me feel like I wasn’t navigating the often-intimidating working world alone. They also provided me with a supportive community.
Holland Bloorview’s employment support programs have helped hundreds of clients like me since 2007. And they’ve certainly helped the employers who hire us. A 2018 report from Deloitte found that organizations that adopt inclusive cultures are eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes, and six times more likely to be innovative and agile.
Since people with disabilities must innovate every single day to survive, who better to hire in innovation spaces?
With the help of comprehensive employment support programs during the critical high school years, people with disabilities can realize the financial, social and health benefits of employment and contribute to business and to society.
It’s time for governments to step up and provide access to stable funding streams so young people with disabilities can access the support they need.