TeenWork participant Jonathan Gingras celebrates with his father after getting a job at Alpine Building Maintenance at Mayfair Mall.

TeenWork participant Jonathan Gingras celebrates with his father after getting a job at Alpine Building Maintenance at Mayfair Mall.

People with disabilities still face barriers to finding work — CanAssist programs aim to close the gap

According to Statistics Canada, people with disabilities aged 25 to 64 are 59 per cent less likely to find employment than people without disabilities. Canadians with disabilities have worse employment and work-related outcomes and are more likely to live in poverty. Skills gaps, pay discrimination, and a lack of supports at many life stages further compound barriers for people with disabilities.

Over the last three years, CanAssist employment programs have helped more than 140 youth and young adults with disabilities find part-time work in the Greater Victoria Area. Participants have found jobs at various local employers, including Nature Bee, BC Parks, Everclean, UVic, and the Victoria District School Board.

Employment programs for teens, UVic students and other youth

TeenWork launched in 2009 to support youth with disabilities in making the difficult transition from school to work. Having little or no prior work experience, youth with disabilities were looking for jobs without necessary supports to find or retain employment. CanAssist saw an opportunity to work with both youth and local employers, using assistive technology where needed but focusing on job skills and coaching to create successful employment matches. CanWork launched in April 2020 to support UVic co-op students in finding work experience related to their degree.

AccessWork, CanAssist’s newest program, bridges the gap by supporting job seekers who are ineligible for many youth employment supports and who are not UVic students. The program follows the same pathway as TeenWork and CanWork, helping young adults with various education and work experience find work opportunities.

CanAssist’s employment programs focus on job skills and coaching, teaching participants how to build strong resumes, write cover letters, excel in interviews, strategize workplace supports, and learn communication, time management, and self-advocacy skills. They also provide access to certificate training, such as FoodSafe and First Aid, at no cost. Through the programs’ strengths-based, person-centered approach, participants are able to build confidence, achieve greater financial independence, gain optimism about the future, and find opportunities to realize their potential.

‘A support network of experts in your corner’

“The job coaches at CanAssist have helped [my son] overcome significant anxiety about the transition to adulthood and, as other parents with disabled children know, having a support network of experts in your corner makes all the difference in the world,” says Kira Antinuk, whose son is currently in the AccessWork program.

One recent participant found employment at Lifecycles Project Society after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Geography and Environmental Science from UVic. He joined AccessWork eager to develop practical experience in his field. Working with his Job Coach, he strengthened his resume and cover letter, practiced interview skills, and made connections with local sustainable agriculture initiatives.

CanAssist’s programs are open to individuals who self-identify as having a disability or mental health challenge. Participation does not require medical documentation. Over the years, participants have included people with learning disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorder, mental health challenges, and physical disabilities.

Employer support

By hiring participants, employers benefit from pre-screened applicants and can even access wage subsidies, thanks to funding from the Government of Canada’s Opportunities Fund. Employers can also work with CanAssist staff to co-create customized positions that satisfy business needs while playing to each participant’s strengths.

Employers who support CanAssist confirm that hiring participants has increased team cohesion and retention of entry-level positions. “The job market can be tough, both for employer and employee, and it’s really great to have a team of people committed to finding equal opportunity work for all […] I will happily continue to work with the program,” says employer Evan Holbein from Everclean Facility Services.

Despite real advantages of inclusive hiring, some employers are reluctant to hire employees with disabilities because of discriminatory beliefs and perceived costs. “We are in a labour shortage right now in Victoria, so it’s challenging to see employers hesitant to hire qualified applicants when there are people who want to work. The reality is that most accommodations are at no cost to an employer, and they often improve the workplace for employees who don’t have a disability,” says Emily Jackson, Employer and Community Engagement Developer at CanAssist.

Small and mid-sized employers, the primary creators of jobs, are in particular need of guidance and support to break down employment barriers. By collaborating with programs like AccessWork, employers can create inclusive and accessible work environments for employees and customers, and make the future of work more equitable for everyone.

To join AccessWork, visit www.accesswork.ca. For more information about CanAssist programming and services, visit www.canassist.ca.

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