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An Open Letter From the CEO – and a Call To Action for Canadian Employers

Written by: Michelle Pinchev

26 Oct / 10
From Issue #12 of CareerBulletin
’s “A Letter from the President”

By Anne Lamont, President & CEO, Career Edge Organization

“When in greeting, you touch my hand. What knuckled shutters open? What fear do you unlearn?”

These are the words of American artist and poet Laura Hershey, who has spinal muscular atrophy. They are part of a labour awareness campaign for National Disability Employment Awareness Month or “NDEAM 2010” which occurs annually in October, both in the US and Canada. As employers assess their current and future hiring needs, it is important to remember that “talent has no boundaries, and that workforce diversity includes people with disabilities”.

In Canada, over 15 per cent of the population has some form of disability. When we assess the impact more broadly to include family members, over 53% of the population are touched by disability as a result of having a family member with a disability.

Unemployment is significantly higher for persons with disabilities than for the rest of the population. Unfortunately this is also true for many who despite
the fact that they have invested in their education, continue to face limited opportunities upon graduation.

It is for this reason we are committed to our Ability Edge internship program that offers an entry point to meaningful employment for graduates with disabilities.

Ability Edge has been a natural fit with our commitment to promoting workplace diversity and inclusive hiring practices, removing employment barriers and providing Canadian organizations with access to untapped talent pools. Employers are looking for qualified talent and most are overlooking the potential contribution and commitment of graduates with disabilities.

With a growing employer interest in and commitment to diversity goals including increasing employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, the Ability Edge paid internship program was established in 1999 to help graduates with self-declared disabilities gain career building work experience and to assist employers with creating an inclusive and supportive work environment, including managing and provisioning reasonable accommodation requirements.

To date, the banking sector and a number of other employers in both the private and public sectors with a commitment to diversity and inclusion in their
hiring practices and workplaces are the primary host organizations currently using the Ability Edge program. Since the launch of Ability Edge in 1999,
over 400 graduates with disabilities have successfully participated in the Ability Edge internship program and based on alumni and employer feedback over 80% of them have leveraged their internship into full time employment, many with their host organizations.

There are currently over 650 registrants in our Ability Edge talent pool, with 204 new registrants in the last quarter alone. Over half of Ability Edge
registrants are fairly recent graduates, having been involved in their job search for six months or less. 33% have a University Bachelor’s degree or higher, 18% are bilingual. They represent a wide range of disciplines, including HR (20.5%), Accounting (12.8%), IT (5.1%) followed by investment/retail banking, general management, manufacturing and marketing.

While RBC has been a leading host employer, many other organizations are hiring interns with disabilities, including Loblaw Companies Limited and MaRS Discovery District (featured in this issue), as well as Bell Canada, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, CIBC, Farm Credit Canada, GE Canada, HSBC Bank Canada, Rogers, Scotiabank, TD Bank Financial Group, the Town of Markham and others.

Ontario’s Ministry of Government Services has also been an important participant and advocate of the Ability Edge program, selecting us as their partner
to create internship opportunities within the Ontario Public Service for 14 recent graduates with disabilities in their Enterprise Recruitment Centre since
late 2008.

With the implementation of accessibility legislation in a number of provinces, most notably the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA),
and the proposed Employment Accessibility Standard, there will be an obligation on employers to focus on disability-related issues at the recruitment through hiring stages of the employment relationship. The Ability Edge internship program is an effective and supportive recruitment option to assist employers with these obligations and to introduce them to well educated and committed candidates with disabilities.

We hope that these legislative changes and employers’ recognition of the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce will generate increased participation in the Ability Edge program and increased internship opportunities for graduates with disabilities to gain meaningful work experience in their field.

Want to learn more? If you are already a host employer, please speak to your Client Relations Manager at Career Edge Organization about Ability Edge.

Reproduced from http://www.careeredge.ca/ceoblog/an-open-letter-from-the-ceo-and-a-call-to-action-for-canadian-employers/