The Bakers Dozen, my 13 key expectations of a service agency recruiting people with disabilities into my business. – Mark Wafer

Jan 12, 2016

As private sector companies begin to realize that there are sound economic reasons to be fully inclusive of employees with disabilities in their workplace we see an increase in demand. In Canada there are approx. 447,000 recent grads from the past five years who have a disability and have never worked. Of those, 270,000 hold a post-secondary degree or diploma. One would assume then that with this massive supply the demand would easily be met but one would be wrong. The unemployment rate and the participation rate for people with disabilities in meaningful and competitively paid jobs remains at the same level as a decade ago and indeed two decades ago. There are numerous reasons for this such as the attitude of private sector employers towards people with disabilities, the funding formula’s around disability benefits and of course the approach taken by Canada’s many service agencies who’s recruiter’s and job developers are tasked with finding jobs for the agencies clients. I have publish many articles about the former and will continue to do so as corporations slowly wake up to the potential contributions of this vast untapped talent pool. There is no doubt that real inclusion is a competitive advantage, those companies who get it, win, those who don’t will pay dearly. For this article however I want to focus on the supply side of the equation or rather, the supply chain. We don’t have a supply problem, we have a supply chain problem.

I have significant expectations of community agencies who represent candidates who have disabilities. These expectations are written into my accessibility policy and unless an agency can demonstrate their ability and effectiveness to follow these 13 expectations we simply don’t do business with them. This is no different to how we would treat any other vendor. In the past however, social service agencies have often operated to a rather low common denominator, this affects outcomes and does little in terms of representing societies more vulnerable people. The focus from agencies has been one of two approaches, altruism or compliance, both are guaranteed to lead to failure.

Here therefore is Wafer’s baker’s Dozen, my expectations of a social service agency.

1) Create business champions in your community and let them do the heavy lifting for you. You may fully understand the business case yourself but when speaking with a potential employer they are perhaps suspicious of your motives, they believe you will tell them what they need to hear in order to hire your client. Business champions are easy to find, they are employers who have hired successfully from you in the past. Acknowledge them, support them and reward them. Once you have developed this relationship ask the champion to go with you to a potential employer’s office and watch the two business owners speak to each other in their own language and peer to peer. This is scalable. I as a small business owner have sat across the table speaking to the CEO of an auto manufacturer, we still speak the same language, and we have the same concerns and stresses, pressures and desires only on a different scale.

2) Have increased expectations of your client. I have hired 125 people with disabilities in meaningful and competitively paid jobs over the past twenty years. As a typical employer I thought i knew the capacity and capability of each employee as they came on board. I was wrong 125 times. Recruiter’s therefore must be aware that workers with disabilities are likely to outperform expectations. Don’t make excuses for what they might not be able to do.

3) View the business as your most important client. The individual who you represent will be well served if you can position yourself as a problem solver for local business owners. Act as a conduit for talent, the company will appreciate and respect you and your agency.

4) Encourage families and stakeholder groups to speak with children early in life about work. Regardless of the severity of the disability. Work must be an expectation rather than a wish or “hope for”. We will concern ourselves later on solutions should work not be possible but too often the subject of work begins at about 17 years of age, this is far too late and places addition pressure on an employer as they deal with a lack of soft skills normally developed by holding part time jobs, summer jobs or even volunteering in the volunteer community.

5) The approach to business must be at all times the “business case”. Know your facts and use them often. I have published articles on the business case but briefly it means once a company has built some capacity they will see increased overall employee morale, decreased absenteeism, greater safety records, greater innovation, lower sick time, less supervision, greatly reduced employee turnover and more. Not only should you memorize these facts but back these up with data and numbers, this is language business owners understand.

6) Develop relationships with business before approaching them to hire your clients. Make an appointment to meet with them, understand their needs, understand what the business does, and show them what your agency does. Visit often and engage them, take coffee and especially Timbit’s.
7) Apply for jobs where jobs exist. This is an important step because agencies have a habit of creating jobs. Job creation is pointless as it serves only to increase the payroll of a company even if the employee is good at their job. Almost all people with disabilities can and should fill jobs that are advertised. The sole exception to this is those with significant intellectual disabilities who may need a created job but even then it should be carved from other employee’s responsibilities rather than a pure creation. Employers do not see value in a worker who is an extra burden on the company’s payroll.

8) Avoid wage subsidies at all costs. These are very dangerous as employees are on boarded with a time limited subsidy. The employer does not value subsidized employees nor do operations managers who see an “us” and “them”. More important though is what can happen when the subsidy runs out especially if the worker has an intellectual disability. They often are kept on without pay in job training exercises with no parameters and no end date. Good employers in serious business do not want subsidies, they want good employees and they are willing to pay fairly.

9) Never take a client on a cold call. This is uncomfortable for the employer and for the client and can show a lack of professionalism.

10) Understand the wants and wishes of your client. Don’t assume everyone with an intellectual disability wants to work at Tim Hortons. Ensure that your intake procedures cover this area. A wrong fit is a guaranteed failure and all of us want to do jobs that we enjoy.
11) It is critical that your initial approach to a business be with the companies owner or if it is a corporation, the CEO. It is perfectly acceptable to have a day to day and ongoing relationship with company managers but the tone and intent of a company is set by the CEO. He or she must be aware that new employees might have a disability and must be supportive of this otherwise failure is guaranteed. One might ask me that approaching a CEO is an impossible task but one needs only to refer to item #1, your business champion.

12) Consider yourself and your agency as a major force in town. Do not as often happens downplay your significance in the community. Agencies often place business and business owners on a pedestal making an approach to them more daunting. There is no business in town more important than your agency.

13) Dress for success. Too often I am approached by a recruiter in the service sector who may be the 8th or 9th vendor to meet with me that day. All other suppliers who met with me wore business attire but when the recruiter arrives it’s often jeans, flip flops and a Grateful dead T shirt. To be taken seriously, dress seriously.

As demand increases let’s ensure the supply is ready. Following these 13 steps will provide the outcomes we need and expect.