CONNECTRA CONNECTS! SOCIETY UNVEILS STAFFING SERVICE PROJECT
By Garry Angus
Anger, frustration, successful approaches and new possibilities were expressed, as ConnecTra unveiled its clerical and general employment staffing service project to the membership. The employment workshop, held Feb. 2nd at the Coal Harbour Community Centre, was an examination of the employability potential of persons with disabilities in an able-bodied job market.
The meeting introduced members to the value of creating and joining special clerical and general employment pools from which to penetrate the systemic barriers persons with disabilities face when attempting to enter the regular employment market.
Acting in response to the input of its members, many of whom are seeking part – time employment in the office/clerical field, ConnecTra started the project with the intent of creating a labour pool of job-ready disabled people that the society could market to prospective companies with no additional costs to the employer. ConnecTra would act as a “temp” agency on behalf of its members, directly paying participants while building marketplace relationships leading to meaningful temporary part-time, permanent part-time or full-time work at professional industry standards, with equitable monetary rewards.
“The pot was stirred,” said ConnecTra manager Jim Howard, ” and it was a good thing.”
Guest speakers included Wayne Rawcliffe of Senga Consulting Inc, a human resources and recruiting expert; Paula Katajamaki, district supervisor, B.C. Ministry of Human Resources; and ConnecTra member, and motivational speaker, Darren Childs.
Rawcliffe, an able-bodied consultant with several years’ local experience, was brought in to provide the mainstream labour market viewpoint, and provided insight on how to effectively network and market in that environment. He faced a tough crowd, and was met with some subtle resistance to his message from the “wheel-a- mile- in- my- chair” faction.
In an interview with the Disability News after the event, Kirk Duncan, ConnecTra program coordinator, explained that sometimes bringing in an able-bodied speaker triggers some barriers within the constituency. “It’s easy to say, ‘wheel a mile in my chair,’ but this doesn’t stop us from getting the best people to come in and speak about the challenges and issues they are going to face when they seek employment. It’s the same skill set. The fact that it’s somebody with a disability doesn’t make it any better or worse.”
“People hire people,” Rawcliffe said in his presentation. “It’s not just about ads in papers or on the web, but about relationships.”
He recommended actively creating and participating in existent networks, such as ConnecTra, and being ready to speak unabashedly about oneself and what you would love to do. “When networking, you should always ask people you connect with, ‘Who else should I speak to about my goals?'”
He said, “You have to challenge your viewpoint on what you think work is, where it is, and what you can do in the labour force. Generally, employers are looking for skills other than just the job requirements. Managers are looking for people with certain qualities, and the clearer you are about who you are, the better you can effectively market yourself. Of course, you have to know what is happening in Vancouver, and the labour market trends.”
Katajamaki addressed the B.C. government’s Employment and Disability Services Act, and opened up the floor for questions.
“The act recognizes that persons with disabilities (PWD) face unique challenges in daily living and may require supports to employment or continuous assistance,” Katajamaki said. “Specialized services allow persons with disabilities to take advantage of employment opportunities as they come available. They receive an early exemption of $400 per month, double what it was in 2002, so that’s a stride forward for the ministry.
“These earning exemptions allow those with PWD designation to keep a portion of their after-tax employment income, and are designed to encourage people with disabilities, who are able to work, to maintain their skills, to participate in the workplace as they are able, and to have greater financial independence.”
She further explained, “If a person with a disability leaves income assistance, due to employment income in excess of assistance rates, they maintain their PWD designation and maintain their medical benefits. You do not have to reapply for the disability status to re-establish your eligibility for assistance. The ministry allows you to go off and on, and retain that status, and to assist you in attaining independence and being able to get out into the workforce to earn a little bit of extra income.”
This was Katajamaki’s first visit to a ConnecTra event, and she graciously answered questions from the floor that she could address on the spot. She stayed on long after her official presentation, meeting member’s concerns face to face, and offering help as to where to turn to get the needed information.
Howard told the membership, “A lot of the companies right now, are a little apprehensive about hiring people with a Disability.”
Apprehension and resultant barriers in the minds and policies of human resources (HR) managers may come down to bottom line costs.
Speaking to an anonymous former HR manager from one of B.C.’s top 16 companies to work for (the company has and does hire qualified persons with disabilities), the Disability News discovered the following:
|•||How much will it cost the company if a person with a disability needs to go on sick leave?|
|•||How will they get around in my buildings, without us having to add ramps, accessibility devices and related infrastructure?|
|•||How will my customers and staff relate to someone with a physical or developmental impairment?|
|•||How much educating can I afford, not only for the person with a disability, but also for my core staff, and for my customers?|
According to ConnecTra’s Duncan, “It’s a fear of the unknown and what it would cost to bring someone in.”
“You have to explain why it’s a good asset to have you, said ConnecTra Member Candace Larscheid in the spontaneous open discussion that broke out. “I speak from experience in retail, and to get in there, I had to totally convince them why I am a good candidate.”
Larscheid, 36, from Vancouver, has cerebral palsy and functions from a manual wheelchair.
“When you are a person with a disability, you are training them,” she said. “They don’t know how to act around you. I’ve done volunteer work from the age 12 on, and I didn’t get a real paid job until I was 33 years old. So it’s all about showing up in the company’s place, volunteering, and proving to employers that you can do the job. When it comes to hiring, you put it to them why you are a good asset for them to have. People with a disability must train the workforce to see how we are capable.”
“How do I break down that hiring barrier?” was the expressed sentiment in the room.
“We are gradually reducing it,” Howard said, “by working with understanding employers and positioning people in target companies and showing that persons with disabilities are an asset in the workforce. What we are hoping to do with the staffing service project is to send out someone, who has the ability, but may not have the stamina for a regular workweek. With a pool we can segment it, and provide.
a team for the job. Putting it through ConnecTra, we pay you, they pay us, and it takes away the barrier of paperwork, education, other expenses for the employer.”
Motivational speaker Darren Childs, 42, of East Vancouver, presented his experience of how to successfully penetrate and integrate into the work force. Starting at McDonalds’ restaurant at age 20 as the lobby host, he quickly found that the key to overcoming perceived barriers as a person with a disability on the job was to put his best foot forward with a smile. For Childs, who happens to have cerebral palsy, it came down to his attitude first, and how he would present himself.
“Remove the anger (about your disability) and you will remove half the barriers right there,” he said. “Your attitude speaks volumes about how people see you. Focus on your talents, not on your disability. The thing I took pride in, instead of saying, ‘there are so many obstacles about having a disability and getting employment, I’m just going to give up,’ was that I never gave up.
“Sometimes when we are attempting to break down barriers, we have to put ourselves on the front page and be the advocates, the people who put up with a lot of ignorance… so that the next generation of people who try to enter the workforce won’t have the same obstacles.”
Childs recommended the crowd examine on an individual basis whether or not their basic needs were being met, whether through B.C. Benefits, or other kinds of financial support, because people do have choices.
“Then I can ask myself, “What do I want to do?” I get an opportunity to look for the career I would like to pursue.”
The workshop closed with more lively discussion, rebuttals, and new replies from the floor, and resulted in 22 ConnecTra members joining the pools from the 25 in attendance.
“Our next step,” according to Duncan, “is approaching the business community, the HR managers, presenting the project and asking for their assistance and support.”