Employment program for youth with disabilities sees expansion

UVic’s CanAssist received nearly 1 million in federal funding.

Graduates of UVic's CanAssist program
Graduates of UVic's CanAssist program. Photo supplied.

Exciting changes are coming to the University of Victoria’s CanAssist. The organization, which is dedicated to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities, recently received a $958,000 grant from the federal Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities. The funds are to go towards a program that assists youth with disabilities in finding employment. 

“Paid employment is so important for everyone for their sense of self-worth, and confidence,”  says Karina Zobolotny, a CanAssist job coach who is excited by the opportunities the new grant brings.

The program pairs each participant with a job coach like Zobolotny who provides them with a variety of skills that could include resume writing, interviewing, how to advocate for themselves in an employment situation, or even on-site job coaching if extra support or training is needed. Previously the TeenWork program was only available to individuals aged 15 to 19 but this new influx of funding is allowing CanAssist to expand to support those up to the age of 30. While the program has always been tailored to the individual, Zobolotny says the larger age range calls for even more flexibility. 

“It’s going to be really client-centred and depend on what the individual wants to learn and what their employment goals are,” she says. “Some people could just want help with finding a job and some people could really need that prep piece and working on more skills before getting into applying for jobs.”

Not only is this new funding allowing them to support more individuals with their job searches, but it’s also allowing CanAssist to expand their resources to provide additional information to employers. 

“Previously, we worked mainly with the clients to help them find a job and maybe there’s the odd conversation with the employer about how they can make their workplace more inclusive or accessible,” says job coach Page Quinn. “But this time around we’re working to develop materials. Hopefully, it’ll be like a simple guide or video that we can give to employers right off the bat, and just say ‘here’s a tool, please use it if you’d like’. ”

Quinn hopes they can educate more employers on how to provide accommodations and adjust them as changes are needed. 

Despite the programs past success, CanAssist still faces hesitancy from some potential employers. 

“All of our participants are going through additional training,” says Quinn. “They’re coming into a job interview with additional training with a job coach. I just want employers to know that these people are ready to work, they’re capable.”

Some employers hold negative stereotypes or lack an understanding about accommodations but Zobolotny and Quinn say their program participants make dedicated employees. 

“Especially right now, with a lot of businesses not being able to find employees and a lot of high employee turnover,” says Zobolotny. “For a lot of the participants that we work with and people with disabilities in general, there’s higher employee retention in businesses. Often they find a job that they like and they’re good at — that’s part of what we do, helping them identify what their interests are, and where they would best succeed —  and they are really dedicated and hardworking employees that can end up working in a certain job for quite a long time.”

Another powerful effect of the federal grant is the opportunity for CanAssist to plan ahead with confidence. This allows them to focus more on developing and improving their programs instead of searching for funding. 

“I know people with disabilities often work with programs where there’s lots of turnover rate and can be unreliable,” says Quinn. “[The funding provides] that long term support and the chance to get to know them and not be like ‘Oh, well, we might not be able to support you in a month’. The security is really nice.”