In 2005, CCRW teamed up with CNIB to launch a new employment program for jobseekers with disabilities entitled the ‘Workplace Essential Skills Partnership’, or WESP. In its initial conceptualization, WESP was designed using the Skills Training Partnership (STP) model; a highly successful pre-employment program with proven success in other parts of Canada and funded through HRSDC (Service Canada). Even in the beginning, the WESP program was destined for success as it merged CCRW’s proven expertise in promoting and supporting the meaningful employment of persons with disabilities with the state-of-the-art accessible facilities of the CNIB centre in midtown Toronto. In its first year, the WESP program offered a highly structured program featuring four 6-week employability enhancement sessions including job development services. In this first year alone, WESP helped 28 jobseekers with disabilities secure employment in the GTA. The project year was deemed a success and plans were immediately put in place to continue the WESP program for the following year.
Throughout 2006 and subsequent years, the WESP program has always aimed to constantly evolve to suit the needs of jobseekers with disabilities in the GTA. For example, 2006 included the modification of several workshop topics and the inclusion of new topics (Coping with Change, Employment Trends, and Social Trends just to name a few). The following year saw an increased focus on vocational evaluations for jobseekers who were in the process of transitioning between careers or who were unsure of their next career move. As well, the first official WESP Career Fair was held in 2007 and featured 400 attendees including 30 WESP clients and over 20 employers. The following year and to better suit a changing clientele, Vocational Evaluations were replaced with Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM) assessments that were performed by trained occupational therapists for clients unsure of their accommodation needs. Over this two-year period, 12 employment preparation workshops were held and 67 jobseekers found employment through WESP.
2008 through 2011 saw additional changes at WESP including the shortening of the employment preparation workshop from 6 weeks to 4 weeks with a heightened focus on job interview preparation and job development services. As a result, more workshops were held during each calendar year which resulted in a total of 111 jobseekers finding employment through WESP.
In 2011, WESP’s long-time project manager retired and this change, along with a shift in guidelines and funding under the newly created Employment Ontario model, allowed for an increased focus on employability and job searching. As a result, WESP has seen an increased focus on assisting professionals with disabilities with developing their long-term career goals and objectives, in addition to helping them with their job search needs. Career Development Sessions and employer presentations have been a hallmark for WESP during this time period, as has hosting two Diversity Employment Fairs for WESP clients and other community agencies in both 2013 and 2014; respectively. With a growing focus on professionalism, WESP has also included numerous workshops on effectively using social media while creating 5-day intensive WESP workshops that are help periodically throughout the year. WESP additionally created two in-house assessment tools called the Occupational Skills Assessment and Occupational Accommodation Assessment that are designed to assist clients in their accommodation needs for both visible and invisible disabilities.
Now in its eleventh year and having moved to CCRW’s National Office, WESP couldn’t be prouder of its rich history of success of having helped more than 525 professionals with disabilities successfully obtain employment. 2017 promises to be a year filled with exciting new initiatives. As we have been saying for the better part of a decade, successful futures begin with WESP!