Canada’s Competitive Labour Market
THE FACTS ABOUT WORKING-AGE (AGED 15-64) CANADIANS . . .
– approximately 10.4 per cent have disabilities;
– 69.9 per cent of the able-bodied population are actively employed, but only 40.3 per cent of people who have a disability are employed;
– women who have disabilities are less likely to be employed than men with disabilities or able-bodied women;
– 28.9 per cent of people with disabilities have only grade eight education or less, compared with 11 per cent of able-bodied adults;
– 67 per cent of people with disabilities have an annual income from all sources of under $15,000;
– 18.2 per cent of people who are unemployed (active job seekers) or not active in the labour force have disabilities.
People who have a disability need economic independence and employment opportunities as much as the able-bodied population. People striving for autonomy and community integration should, of course, have the option of being part of the paid labour force, of working in regular jobs.
Yet most Canadians who have a disability face many barriers preventing them from joining the paid labour force. Few have access to jobs. As a result, most people with disabilities are poor. Those who do work tend to have low-paying, marginalized jobs. They often face many obstacles to keeping their jobs.
To change this situation, a commitment is needed to develop and sustain creative and innovative approaches to employing people with disabilities. Many people are affected and involved in implementing these approaches. Therefore, efforts mean the active participation of key players in the community: people with disabilities, educators, employers, employees, service providers and governments.
WHAT ARE KEY FACTORS TO SUCCESSFUL INTEGRATION IN THE WORKPLACE?
There are many key factors in successful initiatives to provide employment for people with disabilities. Effective strategies common among successful projects include:
– involving as many partners as possible, including employers and other socio-economic agencies
– recognizing regional and local differences
– recognizing the particular issues facing people with various disabilities
– ensuring personal and professional skills are acquired and these are transferable to real work situations
– encouraging the autonomy of individuals while providing them with the supports they require
– dealing with each person as an individual, and seeing his or her abilities rather than disabilities
– actively involving the education sector
– trying new ideas and approaches
– sensitizing employers and staff in the workplace to issues for people with disabilities.
ACTIONS TO CREATE EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR MORE PEOPLE
Many steps need to be taken to make it possible for more people with disabilities to become competitive in the labour force.
1. Increase access to education and training
– Provide people with disabilities with more resources and support to complete secondary school and enter higher education.
– Review and revamp provincial ministries of education mechanisms for allocating funds to students with disabilities.
– Evaluate the quality of primary, secondary and post-secondary education received by students with disabilities.
– Give people with disabilities access to professional training programs and co-operative education programs. The lack of access to these programs makes people with disabilities ill-prepared to compete in today’s job market.
– Simplify the process of applying for student loans, and ensure criteria consider the particular financial needs of students with disabilities.
2. Provide opportunities to acquire functional and transferable skills
– People with disabilities sometimes receive training through rehabilitation services intended to prepare them for work. Often, however, this training is inappropriate and does not correspond to the realities of today’s job market. Given the constant changes in technology, people with disabilities must acquire social and professional skills transferable from one job to another. People with disabilities need access to training in: literacy, computers, numeracy, communications, decision-making, writing, etc.
– Many people with disabilities cannot read or write using conventional modes of communication. They use other means of communicating, such as sign language. Literacy programs and services should be accessible to all people with disabilities, despite their method of communication.
3. Be aware of the capabilities of people who have disabilities
– Employment agencies and service providers sometimes underestimate the capabilities of people with disabilities. People working in these sectors need to know of available technical aids and the possibilities for workplace accommodation.
4. Provide greater physical access
– People often have difficulty getting into and around the workplace and buildings which offer training and education. Obstacles to access should be eliminated.
Small and medium-sized businesses — where people with disabilities are most likely to be employed — often find it difficult to invest in changes to make their premises physically accessible. Funding programs to cover these costs seem non-existent. The lack of access often results in the exclusion of people with disabilities as potential candidates for jobs.
In large companies, physical access to the workplace is still regarded as a privilege, not a right.
5. Improve benefits plans
– Many people with disabilities continue to work part-time so they can retain coverage of expenses related to their disabilities under government programs. A person working full-time may have even less disposable income than if he or she were on a disability pension. Many people with disabilities who work are poorly paid and have no benefits.
Expanding coverage under company benefits plans to meet the needs of people with disabilities –whether they work full-time, part-time or at a low wage — would remove an important barrier to employment. If some special needs related to disability were covered (such as wheelchair repairs, medication, technical aids, etc.), more people could afford to work.
6. Avoid “integration at all costs”
– Government representatives and service providers can be determined to integrate people with disabilities in the labour force. However, people can actually become poorer because of employment, or have less access to medical benefits and government compensation plans.
Government departments and agencies are now transferring many responsibilities for the employment of people with disabilities to non-profit organizations. These organizations frequently have limited resources, which may prevent them from hiring staff familiar with the issues affecting people with disabilities.
– Companies with experience integrating people with disabilities point out the danger of trying to integrate employees who lack social and professional skills.
Certain employers also indicate they resist the notion of their social responsibility to people with disabilities — an approach adopted by many service providers and placement agencies.
7. Increase public awareness
– Many people feel the best way to raise awareness is to give qualified people with disabilities access to regular employment and then make their achievements known. Through contact with qualified persons with disabilities, employers may set aside their prejudices.
However, campaigns of disability awareness will not be effective until obstacles to access, communication and education are removed. Disability awareness programs will be effective only if people interact with those who have a disability in their daily activities.
8. Increase access to community services
– Access to community services and resources is key to integrated employment. This includes access to transportation, housing, income security, support services and health and social services. These are now offered in an inconsistent fashion. Until services become available systematically and universally, people with disabilities will have trouble getting and keeping jobs.
9. Increase support services provided by companies with employment equity policies
– Companies with employment equity policies are primarily large corporations falling under Canada’s employment equity legislation. However, these companies lack internal mechanisms and guidelines for applying equity policies. Responsibility for implementing the policies is often poorly defined. These companies should:
– allocate part of their budget for job accommodation (technical aids, etc.);
– appoint a staff person or committee to facilitate the integration or re-integration of workers with disabilities and to follow up;
– ensure information is provided in staff training and orientation regarding employees’ contributions whatever their disability;
– initiate and promote equity policies even if there are no people with disabilities on staff. For example, material should be available in alternate format (large print, cassettes, etc.) and a TDD should be installed (telephone device for the deaf). Signs and public address systems should also be accessible.
10. Frame collective agreements with a view to people with disabilities
– Workplace accommodation, the re-integration of injured workers and accessibility should be negotiated between employers and unions. These issues should be part of collective agreements. The abilities of individuals who have disabilities should provide the framework for discussions and agreements regarding long-term disability insurance, the compensation of injured workers and rehabilitation needs.
(The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Health and Welfare Canada.)