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.


Fear and Loathing in the Job Search

Finding a job is a huge challenge in today’s economy. Getting a foot in the door is something that all job seekers want but many don’t realize how they inadvertently reduce their chance for success.

Having designed and led a diversity outreach and intake program for the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), I’ve reviewed hundreds and hundreds of applications from job seekers. One thing that I found is that most common reason that an application does not make the ‘first cut’ is ta failure to demonstrate how the applicants fulfill all the required qualifications.

Many of those candidates may have well been able to do the job but resumes that implied a match sold these candidates short. This is because recruiters cannot analyze resumes for qualifications when the candidate has failed to make them obvious. The onus is on the job seekers to make sure that their cover letters and resumed comprehensively demonstrate that they satisfy all the requirements.

Demonstrating a match to job requirements is even harder for job seekers with disabilities. it harder because, as a population, those with disabilities tend to have fewer opportunities to gain the same level of work experience as job seekers without disabilities. Worse yet, many employers desire progressive work experience, which means that there is an obvious, upwardly mobile connection between each position that the candidate has help. In this area, job seekers with disabilities are disadvantaged. Many of us have held jobs for a number of years longer than most workers or moved between a number of survival jobs, which does not offer evidence of advancement.

Of course, job seekers with disabilities almost never get feedback from recruiters as to why their applications don’t generate employers’ interest.  Employers are reluctant to meeting with job seeker with disabilities who request for such information because they fear that it could lead to a human rights complete. Without such feedback, job seekers are left without an ability to grow from the experience. Instead, the develop a loathing about their prospect in the labour market and, for some, themselves. At this point, they start to give up.

This can be avoided if job seekers with disables become more mindful of the jobs that they apply and learn how to provide examples that make their competencies and attribute stand out above the crowd.

The first step in this process is to create a career journal that lists all the jobs that were have held, the skills gains in each position and the accomplishments achieved. Then write a narrative about each of those job experiences and compare them to the requirements listed in the job posting.

Once an opportunity that close matches their experience, the next step is to use those narratives in the cover letter that accompanies the resume.

It’s won’t be easy to do all this but it can be done!


On disclosing a disability

The debate on how people with disabilities can disclosure* is one that seems to be without an end.  There are many differing opinions on how and when a job seeker should inform a prospective employer of a disability and request an accommodation. While my thoughts will only toss another voice in the mix but I’ll provide them in case they offer reassurance to someone who needs it.

For starters, informing an employer about one’s disability is on the same level as giving out a credit card number. It’s personal and should be shared only on a ‘need to know’ basis.

Shopper don’t walk into a store waving their credit cards to store clerks. They only take it out when ready to pay for an item. It’s not the store clerk’s business to have shopper’s credit card information before that point. Managing information about a disability is much like this. Employers do not have a valid reason for knowing if a job applicant has a disability until they plan to conduct a job interview, offer employment and when a job accommodation is needed. Even then there are conditions that should be met before an individual self-identifies.

For example, a deaf person should not identify as a person with a disability during resume submission because the application may never reach the point where the two parties meet.  However, self-identification may be in a deaf candidate’s interest after receiving a job interview invitation — but only if an accommodation (e.g. interpreter support, assisted listening devices, etc) is needed.

Those with disabilities that are apparent (e.g. wheelchair users, etc.) should also follow this approach. There is no valid reason for an employer know about the existence of a disability until they decide to meet with the individual.  At that point, the candidate must decide if self-identification is needed to help ensure that he or she has a beneficial meeting.

* I prefer to use “identify” or “self-identify”over “disclosure” because the latter suggests that having a disability is a dark secret or an undesirable state. 


Accommodations and Job Interviews

While I was reading comment posted in the discussion board for deaf and hard of hearing professionals, I came across on where one individual asked the other members “When applying for a new job and scheduling a phone interview. Do you tell the interviewer up front that you are hard of hearing or do you attempt to go through the interview with the call without informing them?”

For me, I’ve always been frank about my being a deafened person and the need for sign language interpreters during interviews. My own experiences are different from the norm as work in the field of diversity and inclusion.

Nevertheless, I understand why other people in the hearing loss community (i.e. deaf, deafened and those with varying levels of hearing loss) may feel very reluctant to request interpreter service, Video Relay, Communication Access Real-time Translation for an interview. After all, jobseekers with disabilities are often advised to avoid mention that they have a differing condition when applying for jobs. This is out of a concern that if the disability is made known, it becomes a screening metric that eliminates them from competition.

This concern is a valid one. There has been tons of research that shows that stereotypes about disabilities can influence recruiters and hiring managers if the condition is known at the application stage. In fact, I once designed and lead a (successful) positive measures program to counteract this bias while employed with a large financial institution.

Although I believe that people with disabilities should not mention their conditions in the application, it’s for a different reason. When applying for a job, the cover letter or resume should only focus on the match between the candidate’s skills to the job requirements. In those documents, any space that is not used towards selling the candidate’s skills only sells the individual short.

The whole world changes when a job candidate is contacted by an employer to do a telephone pre-screen or invited to an invited to job interview. At this point the employer has determined that the applicant has the necessary skills, at least on paper, to do the job. The telephone pre-screen is meant to confirm the documents validity and the initial interview is intended to find out how well the candidate performed in the past. For this reason concealment of a disability or failing to request accommodations can prove to be fatal to the candidacy of someone with hearing loss or deafness.

Consider the communicative nature of job interviews. Candidate must be able to effectively respond to interviewer’s questions. This means that candidates with hearing loss or deafness who try to ‘pass’ when they need some sort of accommodation only places them a severe disadvantage.
Ways that passing can hurt a candidate’s chances include:

      – having to frequently ask interviewers to repeat themselves forces them to do most of the talking instead of listening for examples of the skills being offered to the company. This could come across as being less capable than the other candidates; and

– the question heard might actually be one quite different than what the interview posed, which means that the candidate could lose points for not providing the right example.

Either way, the candidate will have wasted a good part of the limited time available during a 50 minute job interview (or 30 minute telephone pre-screen) on bluffing and/or trying to comprehend rather that showcasing what they can do for the employer.

Worse yet, passing can result in a loss of leverage if there is a bona fide case of discrimination. On a legal level, candidates who need a disability-related accommodations but fail to request they are provided during the interview will have no recourse should they be eliminated from the competition for reasons other than those based on skills and experience. They have given a discriminating company a “get out of jail free” card that the legal system will honour because the employer can claim that they did all that they could do to ensure fairness.

So what are job applicants supposed to do? The answer is simple. Job applicants who have a hearing loss or are deaf should always request the accommodation they need when invited to an interview. In cases involving a telephone pre-screen, ask that the conversation is postponed till the necessary accommodations are provided. This will ensure that the supports are in place for both parties to be fully engaged while assessing the candidate’s potential to join the company.

One must be aware that requesting disability-related accommodations that, sometimes, employers may eliminate candidates who request accommodations. It’s an unfortunate fact that there are still plenty of jerk employers out the community. But having an interview invitation withdrawn after requesting an accommodation gives the candidate evidence that an act of discrimination had occurred, which is the basis of a human right complaint and/or other legal recourses.

Regardless, the risk of encountering a discriminating employer should never make on fear asking for accommodations because having the supports in place is the only way you can give yourself a fair chance at landing a job.



Disclaimer: The opinion expressed in post is my own and do not claim that it reflect that of my current employer.

Disneyland Resort Celebrates Creativity in Deaf Community

Disneyland announced a special event to celebrate the talent and creativity of the Deaf Community.

The event, SIGNin’ in the Street, will take place over the weekend of March 17 & 18, 2012 in the Downtown Disney District at the California resort.

It will showcase top Deaf performers and feature interactive workshops, film screenings and appearances by Deaf actor Katie Leclerc and her Switched at Birth cast members for panel question and answer sessions and autograph signings.

Academy Award winning actress Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God) will also make an appearance.

Over the weekend, two Deaf feature films will be shown and include:

  • The Hammer, which is a story based on the life of triple NCAA champ and professional mixed martial artist Matt Hamill.
  • The award-winning documentary See What I’m Saying, which follows the journeys of four Deaf entertainers over the course of a year.

Stars from these films will host question and answer sessions, sign autographs and perform live.

Other highlights include:

  • Musical performances by Tony Award-winning Deaf West Theatre, including a sneak preview of the group’s upcoming world premiere, and workshops for guests interested in learning American Sign Language and acting.
  • Drum Café, the internationally acclaimed drumming crew, will super-charge the audience through interactive performances and workshops.
  • Nighttime concerts by popular deaf performers including singer-signer TL Forsberg, rock band Beethoven’s Nightmare, and comic CJ Jones.
  • Specially created Disney merchandise featuring American Sign Language.

The event kicks off at 1 p.m. both days and continues until 9 p.m. Saturday and 8 p.m. Sunday.


Saturday, March 17
11:30 a.m. to midnight

Film screenings of See What I’m Saying, a multi-award winning documentary, and The Hammer, a biopic based on the life of triple NCAA champ and professional mixed martial artist Matt Hamill. Purchase discounted tickets at the AMC Theater box office.
For periods of time between 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Artist Mary Rappazzo will be autographing a special Mickey ASL (American Sign Language) poster.

1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Q & A sessions, meet-and-greets and autograph signings with the cast from ABC Family’s groundbreaking drama Switched at Birth

Screening at the AMC Theater of 2 episodes of Switched at Birth — plus, an exclusive sneak preview of the spring finale episode.

Sunday, March 18
11:30 a.m. to midnight

Film screenings at the AMC Theater of See What I’m Saying, a multi-award winning documentary

The Hammer, a biopic based on the life of triple NCAA champ and pro wrestler Matt Hamill.

2:00 p.m

Q & A session on the Westside Stage with Matt Hamill, the filmmakers and 2 stars of The Hammer
After The Hammer Q & A

Matt Hamill will be at the ESPN Zone to sign autographs and challenge fans to games in the Game Zone.

Time TBD

Marlee Matlin (Melody) and Sean Berdy (Emmett) from ABC Family’s Switched at Birth will discuss their characters’ relationship during a Q & A session.

After the Switched at Birth Q & A, there will be a meet-and-greet session with Marlee Matlin and Sean Berdy.