Published January 15, 2015 in the Telegraph Journal
By Alan Cochrane
A new federally funded program will help disabled people in Moncton get the training they need to re-enter the workforce, and provide employers with an incentive to hire them full-time.
Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe MP Robert Goguen announced funding of $398,000 Thursday morning at the Moncton office of the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work, located at 529 Main St.
Maureen Haan, president and CEO of the CCRW, said the funding will be split between four locations in New Brunswick including Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton and Miramichi. She said 40 applicants will be chosen and go through the 22-week program. The program begins with classroom training in job skills, followed by on-the-job training to prepare them to go to work full-time. Part of the federal money will go to employers participating in the program to subsidize the workers’ salaries for six months.
Haan said there are approximately 800,000 people across Canada with various disabilities who are ready and willing to work, but still not part of the workforce.
“These are people who with very little accommodation or specialized training would be able to get into the workforce. Employer awareness of this is huge,” Haan said.
She said this program will help the 40 individuals learn valuable job skills in the classroom and then go to a workplace for on-the-job training.
“They will learn about how to go through an interview, how to present themselves, also some self-discovery about the jobs they are interested in, what their skill sets are, what worked for them before, what didn’t work and applying all of that,” Haan said in an interview at Thursday’s news conference. She noted that in some similar programs, applicants learn basic interview skills like how to shake hands.
She expects there will be far more than 40 applications from people hoping to get into the program, and that it would continue with more people if funding becomes available. She said similar programs carried out elsewhere have been very successful.
“During the work experience portion, they will be going into the place of employment with a wage subsidy for employers to learn on-the-job training,” Haan said. “At the end of it, the intent of it is that they are hired on full time. We check our employers very carefully to make sure that they are actually interested in hiring people at the end of the project, as opposed to getting free labour. We’re not about free labour, we’re about getting people jobs.”
Haan said the jobs could range from entry-level positions to jobs that require more skills and responsibilities. One of the goals is also helping job-seekers and employers understand what accommodations or specialized equipment the disabled person might need to get into the workforce.
She said the federal government offers programs to help employers pay for special accommodations. There are also tax deductions available and the CCRW is working with the federal government to set up an accommodation fund to help employers purchase equipment or make renovations. However, she said the average cost of accommodating a worker is around $500, but there are also needs for companies to adopt corporate policies on hiring disabled workers and working with them on accommodations and flexible hours.
Haan, who works out of the CCRW national office in Toronto, said New Brunswick has one of the highest percentages in Canada of disabled workers, but the province is also a leader when it comes to helping disabled people find work.
“New Brunswick, honestly, is far and above the leader in disability employment, I believe. We have programs across the country. New Brunswick has an employment action program for persons with disabilities. It’s my opinion that New Brunswick is very forward thinking when it comes to disability employment,” Haan said.
Goguen noted that New Brunswick is especially active when it comes to finding jobs for people with mental health issues.
“The great thing about New Brunswick is that this province is open to ideas that come from all kinds of different areas, and it’s a web that is knit together and the community involvement in New Brunswick is phenomenal.”
The CCRW is a non-profit organization which helps disabled workers find employment. The office also works with employers, educational institutions and various agencies to help disabled persons get the support they need to find work. The office often works with people who have become disabled as a result of illness or injury.
The Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work looks at three major types of disabilities: physical, sensory and learning. Physical disabilities mainly involve people who have suffered from illness or injury and have limited mobility. Sensory disabilities include the deaf, blind and those with speech impediments. There are many types of learning disabilities, including dyslexia and autism.
The emcee for Thursday’s news conference was Kathy Malley of Malley Industries in Moncton, who is a member of the CCRW’s board of directors. Malley Industries manufactures a wide range of specialized vehicles from ambulances to wheelchair-accessible vans that give disabled persons mobility.
“People who are in wheelchairs, if they can’t get to work, they can’t earn a living. What really appeals to me about CCRW is the programs that get people into the workplace so they can be productive, working citizens and that is very important,” Malley said.
She said her view from the human resources office of a big company is that people with disabilities should be given a chance to show what they can do.
“I look at a disabled person much the same way as you would at someone from another country, an immigrant in that they have a disadvantage. If there’s anything an employer can do to help someone with a disability or from another country, they should do it. People with disadvantages in employment, when they can get a job they are much more appreciative and they are much better employees, so it makes good economic sense and it makes good human sense.”