For the first time in many years, “for hire” signs are dotting the windows of Vancouver Island businesses, and many are struggling to fill vacancies. In Victoria, we have the good/bad circumstance of a low unemployment rate: 3.8 percent, equalling a full-employment labour market. While that’s great news for employees and job seekers, it makes running a business challenging, and at times hiring for certain positions is downright impossible.
Employers have to be more creative in their hiring practices, going beyond giving days off and bonuses, to really look at the labour pool. One such largely untapped resource of great employees is people with disabilities. By identifying the strength and value in employees with diverse abilities, businesses will find their workplaces are happier and more productive and will experience decreased turnover.
One in seven Canadians of working age lives with a disability, or approximately three million people. Many are well educated and very capable, yet unemployment among this group is 4.5 per cent higher than for people without disabilities.
According to Statistics Canada, 12 per cent of Canadians with a disability reported having been refused a job in the previous five years as a result of their condition. Among 25- to 34-year-olds, the rate is 33 per cent.
Taking A New Viewpoint
To begin with, we have to change our perspectives from “what can’t a person do” to “what can a person do.” For example, in most workplaces, every employee performs tasks that slow productivity. Ask yourself, do your executives have to do their own filing? Do your salespeople need to stock shelves when they could be focusing on your customers instead? Is there a better use of their skills?
Rather than struggling to hire another employee who fits a rigid job description, consider hiring a person with a cognitive disability who would be delighted to assume those duties, freeing up other employees to be more productive and drive increased revenue.
Julie is woman with a cognitive disability who works one afternoon a week for our company. We have to keep paper records for certain accounts, and before we hired her, the filing competed with other pressing needs. While I like to joke that I have to sing the alphabet song when I file, Julie is a whiz who puts things in order in just a couple of hours.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness, and by age 40, half the population will have experienced depression or another mental illness. A colleague recently told me about Hal, a young man she worked with in her community agency in Nanaimo. Hal had always dreamed of being a mechanic, but his mental health prevented him from pursuing that dream. He was helped to land an unpaid work experience with an auto-repair shop. Hal’s employer was so impressed he offered Hal part-time work as a mechanic assistant. Today, Hall works full-time, has paid off his debt and bought a car.
A growing number of young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are entering the workforce, dispelling myths that they can’t work. Many of these employees exhibit a need for order, room to focus, clear directions and performance feedback, attributes many employers value. Many people with ASD are extremely successful programmers, and some software companies are inviting applications from these careful, detail-oriented applicants.
The Business Case for Hiring
A study from DePaul University found that employees with a disability working in the hospitality and retail sectors stay in their jobs longer than their colleagues who do not have a disability, and experience less absenteeism across all sectors. Not only are they loyal employees, but their co-workers’ and customers’ loyalty and satisfaction also increased. This, incidentally, also contributes to the bottom line.
Worried about the cost of accommodating employees who have a disability? Many studies show the average cost is less than $500. Many grants and programs are available that can pay for assistive technologies, additional training, wage subsidies, on-the-job coaching and more. You definitely don’t have to go it alone.
Terry suffers chronic pain as the result of back surgery. A modified work station and new chair make it possible for her to work with less pain, but equally important is that she is free to start her day a little later, close her door for stretch breaks and go for walks to loosen up. She still works a full work week but can modify her day to work almost pain free.
If you’re still not convinced, remember that people with disabilities are also customers and have influence. It’s estimated that this consumer group will spend about $25 billion in Canada this year and will also sway the buying habits of their friends and families. Take advantage of this knowledge by asking your employees who have a disability for ideas on how to better serve your customers’ diverse needs.
Having trouble getting up to full staffing levels? Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your job descriptions and hiring practices. There are up to three-million people in Canada to choose from.
There are a number of excellent agencies who can connect employers with people with disabilities seeking work. Some of these agencies include:
GT Hiring Solutions (Victoria/Saanich/Nanaimo)
This article is from the February/March 2018 issue