TORONTO – Ontario’s new employment strategy for people with disabilities includes a call for all businesses with more than 20 employees to hire at least one additional person with a disability.
The Liberal government’s call to action — released on Monday — is not binding, but Minister of Accessibility Tracy MacCharles says it could create about 56,000 jobs for a population currently twice as likely to be unemployed as their able-bodied counterparts.
The multi-pronged employment strategy also highlights the need to create early career opportunities for young people and says it will be investing in more apprenticeships and other early career experiences for youth.
The strategy also announces the roll-out of a “supportive employment” model that allows both employers and those looking for work to tap into help at every stage of the job-seeking process.
The model will be tested in a pilot project starting next year that will run in three Ontario communities — Timmins, Cornwall and Belleville.
MacCharles says the government’s request to Ontario businesses comes as it tries to address the needs of a growing population — the provincial and federal governments currently estimate one in seven people has a disability and expect the number will rise as the population continues to age.
The most recent data from Statistics Canada estimated the unemployment rate for people with disabilities to be 16 per cent, more than double the national average.
Businesses with fewer than 20 employees may find it more difficult to heed the government’s request, MacCharles said, but all companies should step up to tap into an overlooked talent pool of well-educated, highly motivated workers.
“It’s a call for action…because it’s good business,” she said in an interview.
“We want to challenge employers to work through any barriers they have, whether it is how to find people with disabilities or systemic barriers they have, and tap into that untapped labour pool.”
MacCharles said the government is launching a new online hub to make it easier for employers to get on board.
She said the new platform will help connect businesses with people with disabilities, but offered few other details. The government is also creating the Employers Partnership Table — a working group of business leaders who will share best practices with the government.
The focus on business is one part of the four-pronged employment strategy, which the Ontario Liberals first promised to develop in 2013.
Another major component is the need to start creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities at a young age. Like adults, disabled youth are currently twice as likely to be unemployed as their able-bodied peers, the government said.
The strategy promises to build an employment component into the Ontario Disability Support Program, the province’s primary social assistance offering for the demographic.
It said a new case management approach for youth in the program will help identify job goals and make plans to attain them.
The government also promised to support job-related learning experiences for students and help with the transition from the school to the workforce.
Students with autism spectrum disorders will be particular targets of the government’s early transition efforts. The strategy did not offer details on how these various programs would look.
The third piece of the employment strategy involves integrating and co-ordinating employment services, MacCharles said, adding a shift towards a supported employment approach is part of that picture.
A supported employment program would offer a range of services for employers and employees alike, featuring everything from job readiness training to on-the-job coaching services and financial support for adaptive technology.
MacCharles said Belleville, Cornwall and Timmins will be testing grounds for the approach starting in 2018. If successful, she said the program could expand provincewide.
The fourth component involves the government itself taking a more proactive role in hiring people with disabilities, who currently comprise 12 per cent of the public services workforce.
“I’m confident that the areas of focus are the right ones to help raise the importance of creating inclusive environments and increasing that persistently low employment rate for persons with disabilities,” MacCharles said.