NEADS Workplace, Opportunities, Removing Barriers to Employment Overview
Since October 30, 2015, NEADS has hosted four employment awareness events. The BID workshop is part of the “Breaking Through Barriers”: An Employment Project to Support Persons with Disabilities, a national two-year project aimed at connecting recent graduates with disabilities and employers in the federally regulated sector, through in-person workshops and a web portal designed to create on-going relationships and resource sharing between graduates and employers. These events, titled Breaking It Down: Creating Dialogues on Removing Barriers to Employment in the Workplace, were aimed at educating students and recent graduates with disabilities and employers about barriers to obtaining and retaining work post-graduation. This series of workshops has been traveling across Canada, and so far, has taken place in Toronto, Regina, Halifax, and Vancouver respectively. This series involves an interactive approach to learning and discussion, where students/recent graduates and employers speak on key topics that are meant to facilitate discussion among participants. These topics can vary depending on audience and location, but can include: personal branding and social media; disclosure and accommodation; soft skills in the workplace; and, barriers and focus career goals. After each presentation, participants are afforded the opportunity to engage in dialogue with the aim of creating a two-way flow of knowledge between student/recent graduate and employers. After each presentation segment, the group comes together collectively to discuss the specific presentation topic. The content of the facilitated discussions will be used to inform the content of the Breaking Down Barriers Web Portal (to be launched in 2017). This portal has an aim of creating dialogue/provideing information around non-traditional topics that are specific to students and recent graduates with disabilities. We hope to have an interactive component where employers, students, and recent graduates can learn about issues such as disclosure and accommodation; social media and personal branding as a job seeker with a disability; and, navigating soft skills. It is our aim that this portal will provide links to job search and job match resources.
We will now outline feedback that was collected via surveys after the completion of each of our Breaking It Down events. Both students and employers/professionals were asked to complete a short survey providing some detail on what learnings they took away from the event, and suggestions for future events. We’ve given some general quotes below to help illustrate the participants’ comments.
Overall, students found the event to contain applicable information about job seeking and retention. The round tables for discussion provided a good platform on which to build informed and engaged discussions. It was noted that a more formal networking session would have benefited those who are not as comfortable with informal networking. Perhaps some guided facilitation between students and employers to ensure all students got an opportunity to speak with an employer would have been helpful. The most common next steps students stated they would pursue were to update their social media platform to something more work-related and to develop and improve their networking skills. The most common key learning was the conversation on disclosure and accommodation. Students indicated this was an area they struggled with and found the round-table especially helpful to break this topic down further. One suggestion for further consideration was that a Skype/virtual option for this sort of workshop might enable students with health/mobility challenges to take part who cannot attend in-person. For future events, it was noted that there are myriad interview styles and techniques, so presenting these and having mock interviews might be more useful than a general round table for the interview topic.
The employer feedback indicated that the employers present found the day to be helpful and informative. The sessions provided a platform for discussing issues that an employer may generally not feel comfortable bringing up. Where session numbers were small, the workshop facilitators opted to engage employers and students in a role-playing exercise to simulate conversations that may pose difficulty for employers such as accommodating a candidate with a disability; disclosing a disability; and, implementing sensativity training in the workplace. There was some discomfort with one session, as expressed in the following quote: “I thought this conference was very well put together. The small group discussions and the way the day was facilitated were fantastic! I would also suggest working out AV kinks by doing a test run a good hour or two before events begin to ensure time is not wasted with playing around with that. Overall, a truly enjoyable experience. May be beneficial in future to have recent grads who have found meaningful employment come speak about how they went about gaining that employment and speak to the successes/challenges involved in that process.”