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Innovative Job Development: Temp Agency for Students with Disabilities

By Denise Feltham

As a presenter at the Cannexus18 National Career Development Conference in Ottawa, I had the opportunity to visit various exhibitor booths. One such exhibitor was Unitemps, a university owned, onsite temporary recruitment franchise that was developed by the University of Warwick in 2010 and has since grown worldwide (www.unitemps.com).  This model is professed to benefit the post-secondary institution, student and employer in a number of ways including:

  • new sources of sustainable income for the post-secondary institution;
  • a large labour pool and low-cost source of internal staff;
  • acquired work experience and development of transferable skills for students both on and off-campus; and
  • a source of financial support for students so that they can complete their program.

 

Such an innovative approach here in Canada would help resolve the dilemma of how to obtain that first job in the field without experience. This solution can apply not only to newly educated youth and adults in career transition, but also to students with disabilities. The 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability conducted by Statistics Canada conveyed that 1 in 7 (3.8 million) Canadians aged 15 years and older have a disability, with the average age of onset in their early 40s. The most prevalent disability-related issues are pain, lack of flexibility and mobility. Only 49% of Canadians between the ages of 25 and 64 were employed, compared to 79% of able-bodied Canadians. Moreover, there was a substantial statistical difference in terms of educational achievement at the university level, with 27% of able-bodied Canadians having acquired a university certificate, diploma or bachelor’s degree compared to only 14% of persons with disabilities.

One of the biggest barriers to employment for people with disabilities is job retention throughout the probationary period and beyond. This is due, in part, from underdeveloped transferable skills such as communication, problem solving and teamwork. For children and youth, lack of access to the environment because of their disability can prevent opportunities for learning and life experiences, thereby impeding the development of life skills which lay the foundation for the soft skills expected by employers.

Temporary jobs in their area of study would provide students with exposure to the work culture, demands and employer expectations characteristic of their chosen field, thereby increasing their opportunities for soft and hard skill development. According to Career Builder Canada, as reported in The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business/Careers section on March 26, 2017, the fastest-growing temp jobs in this country are:

  • Licensed practical and registered nurses
  • Information systems analysts and consultants
  • Computer network technicians
  • Records management and filing clerks
  • Banking, insurance, and other financial clerks
  • Purchasing and inventory clerks
  • Payroll clerks
  • Landscaping and grounds maintenance labourers
  • Light duty cleaners

 

One field in which temporary work has not been utilized is human services. Temporary assignments in community or social service work, child and youth work, addictions or social work would be highly beneficial for those students with disabilities who have an undergraduate degree or diploma in this sector, particularly in light of the fact that employment in the field requires a Master’s degree, while admission to the graduate level program requires demonstrated skill and at least some work experience in the field. In return, employers would benefit from the alleviation of stress caused by heavy caseloads, employee sick days as well as government reporting and statistics. So how can you, as a trailblazing, creative job developer plant this seed and nurture it to fruition? In her Program Design and Development Resources manual, found on the United Way of Toronto and York Region website, Martha McGuire highlights the importance of conducting a needs analysis and establishing clearly defined goals, objectives and desired outcomes of the program.

Assessment

The first step is a feasibility study. It is important to research the employment realities of graduating students with disabilities such as unique challenges as well as those shared with able-bodied graduates. What needs would a temporary placement agency for students and graduates with disabilities meet? What similar services, if any, currently exist, such as Ability Edge or Magnet? What gaps in these programs create barriers for the target population? Focus groups are a good tool to gauge how the idea will be received by key players such as students/graduates, post-secondary institutions, employers, service providers and existing placement agencies.

Program Objectives and Outcome

Once you have determined that there is a need for and interest in such a program, the next step is to identify and formulate the overall goals, specific objectives and ultimate outcomes you would like to accomplish. This includes your mission statement, core values and beliefs; budgeting and sources of funding; and organizational structure. The more specific and measurable these goals are, the easier it will be to measure the success of the program, which is essential if funding from government or other sources is required. So, for our student/graduate temp agency, the overall goal would be to place students/recent graduates in short-term or long-term assignments with employers, and the outcome would be the development of marketable skills and experience that would increase graduates’ chances of becoming permanently employed. The objectives would be the specific steps needed to achieve those goals, such as marketing, setting up the infrastructure, recruiting candidates and finding employers.

There is no doubt about the potential merit of a temporary placement agency for students and graduates with disabilities. Underlying the success of a viable business concept is the belief in our ability to surpass the proverbial four-minute mile; in other words, it is not impossible just because others do not think it is possible. What are we waiting for?

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