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Tapping Into An Underutilized Labour Pool

Editor's Note: Anu Pala is an AEBC member, a Career Practitioner working with Neil Squire Society and Owner of A-Nu Vision Consulting in British Columbia.

As baby boomers are retiring and birth rates are declining, staff recruitment and retention are becoming a growing concern for Canadian Employers. Companies have to look at new strategies on employee retention in order to maintain consistency, as well as save on training costs. They now also have to look beyond standard hiring practices and think outside the box.

According to the Greater Vancouver Business Leadership Network (GVBLN), there are currently about 4.4 million (14.3%) Canadians with disabilities and 300,000 working-age persons with disabilities (PWDs) in British Columbia, most of whom are ready, willing and able to contribute to the workforce, but stereotyping, lack of social acceptance, and employer fears about hiring individuals they perceive to have "greater needs" are major barriers to PWDs securing employment.

Employment barriers and denial of opportunity to achieve full potential not only undermine the emotional well-being of individuals with disabilities, but also create significant economic and social cost to society. Resources invested in education and training are not put to use, and those who remain unemployed often end up living below the poverty line and/or on Social Assistance. The longer people don't achieve their employment goals and potential, the more effect that may have on their social, spiritual, mental and physical health, which in turn require further services and resources from the community.

In a recent study conducted by the Minister's Council on Employment for Persons with Disabilities, employers stated that more education was needed in order to learn how to incorporate PWDs into their work environments, and more strategies were required to retain those employees. Various initiatives, such as the Minister's Council on Employment for Persons with Disabilities, Greater Vancouver Business Leadership Network, Access Works and many others are addressing these issues by creating business relationships and corporate partnerships, raising awareness, and developing strategies on retaining employees and promoting inclusiveness in the workplace.

Safeway Inc., a proud supporter of the employment of persons with disabilities, currently has nearly 10,000 workers with disabilities in its stores and support facilities across Canada and the United States. The award-winning company is very proud of its efforts and is dedicated to continuing to create employment opportunities for PWDs.

When I met with Cliff Yeo, Human Resources advisor for Canada Safeway, his enthusiasm and commitment towards promoting employment of PWDs was encouraging. "We have various people with disabilities working in our stores, ranging from hearing-impaired to developmentally delayed," he said. "In fact, currently one of our store managers is visually impaired." And Yeo sees the value of PWDs and what they bring to the work environment. "We have found that attendance, as well as employee retention, among our disabled workers is higher than among our non-disabled staff." Yeo sits on various committees, where he shares his insight, knowledge and experience on the benefits of recruitment and retention of PWDs.

With the present skills shortage in the workforce and the retirement of older workers, employers must take advantage of this talent pool--persons with disabilities--that is often overlooked. I encourage employers to be open-minded, get educated, tap into the incredible amount of resources available to them, and step up!

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