Wage subsidies; Don’t do it!

The labour market is bleak for people who do not match the traditional ‘script’ of the Caucasian Canadian male. Foreign trained professionals are forced to take survival jobs due to barriers that prevent them from landing a position that matches their capabilities. Despite their advances, women still have yet to make real headway at the top levels of corporate Canada. The employment of youth is unacceptably high and getting worse. The labour market barriers for people of Aboriginal heritage still exist on so many levels that it still makes more sense for them to do business within their nations rather than keep pounding on the door.

The solution is at hand! The government should just pay employers wage to hire qualified workers from these groups. The use of wage subsidy programs will make all the barriers that they encounter dissolve overnight.

Now that you stopped laughing…

Seriously, doesn’t that proposal sound rather offensive? It does to me. It does to many in the disability community. This is why I’m opposed to the use of wage subsidy programs for people with disabilities.

But my views on wage subsidies isn’t shared by many in the community. There are people in the community, usually people without disabilities, who this that giving money to employers to hire people with disabilities is fine. To illustrate, I asked one self-professed diversity ‘champion’ why he supported wage subsidy programs for people with disabilities. He said “because they are disabled; employers need to be shown that they can work.”

Excuse me. isn’t that what the job candidate recruitment process is supposed to do? It was designed, after all, to make sure that the candidates who match the job requirements are those that receive job offers.

To this, the subsidy proponents point out that people with disabilities are stigmatized and placing clients in jobs at low or no cost to an employer helps smash stereotypes. However, if the use of wage subsidies is an effective approach to expanding employment opportunities, why not apply it with ethnic groups, different religions and so on? Why is it limited to only people with disabilities?

This use of wage subsidy programs for only people with disabilities smacks of second-class citizenry.

What the wage subsidy proponents do not seem to understand that a this approach to employment does not foster an employer’s commitment to the worker. The relationship is one of It’s more of servitude that makes workers feel exceptionally compelled to ask ‘how high’ each time the manager says ‘jump’. This is because they have fewer protections than what full employees enjoy. It’s a pre-probation, probation period that employers can end at anytime without penalty. This is why subsidized jobs tend to end when the funds are exhausted.

An alternate to subsidizing wage is to expand employment opportunities by training a person with a disability to do a job. This does not force a qualified worker to jump through hoops that other diversity groups are not expected to undergo. This was the principle behind the Skills Training Pathway of the CIBC Career Access Program (CCAP-STP) that I created while leading the CIBC’s Diversity Outreach and Intake Program.

I designed the CCAP-STP to provide six weeks of intensive training to selection job seekers who otherwise would have been competitive in the banks recruitment and selection process. The participants entering the program showed foundational skills but fell short in the areas of training and/or experience. Job ready candidates we’re not accepted into the program; they were referred to job competitions that they had a reasonable chance in becoming employed.

Although the CCAP-STP was fully funded though my recruitment budget, there is nothing stopping government and employers from creating a similar program. This is preferable solution to workforce barriers for people with disabilities that doesn’t have the bitter aftertaste that comes with buying employment opportunities for people with disabilities.