ConnecTra connects! Society unveils staffing service project
By Garry Angus
Anger, frustration, successful approaches and new possibilities were
expressed, as ConnecTra unveiled its clerical and general employment
staffing service project to the membership. The employment workshop,
held Feb. 2nd at the Coal Harbour Community Centre, was an examination of
the employability potential of persons with disabilities in an
able-bodied job market.
The meeting introduced members to the value of creating and joining
special clerical and general employment pools from which to penetrate
the systemic barriers persons with disabilities face when attempting to
enter the regular employment market.
Acting in response to the input of its members, many of whom are seeking
part - time employment in the office/clerical field, ConnecTra started
the project with the intent of creating a labour pool of job-ready
disabled people that the society could market to prospective companies
with no additional costs to the employer. ConnecTra would act as a "temp" agency on
behalf of its members, directly paying participants while building
marketplace relationships leading to meaningful temporary part-time,
permanent part-time or full-time work at professional industry
standards, with equitable monetary rewards.
"The pot was stirred," said ConnecTra manager Jim Howard, " and it was a
Guest speakers included Wayne Rawcliffe of Senga Consulting Inc, a human
resources and recruiting expert; Paula Katajamaki, district supervisor,
B.C. Ministry of Human Resources; and ConnecTra member, and motivational
speaker, Darren Childs.
Rawcliffe, an able-bodied consultant with several years' local
experience, was brought in to provide the mainstream labour market
viewpoint, and provided insight on how to effectively network and market
in that environment. He faced a tough crowd, and was met with some
subtle resistance to his message from the "wheel-a- mile- in- my- chair"
In an interview with the Disability News after the event, Kirk Duncan,
ConnecTra program coordinator, explained that sometimes bringing in an
able-bodied speaker triggers some barriers within the constituency.
"It's easy to say, 'wheel a mile in my chair,' but this doesn't stop us
from getting the best people to come in and speak about the challenges
and issues they are going to face when they seek employment. It's the
same skill set. The fact that it's somebody with a disability doesn't
make it any better or worse."
"People hire people," Rawcliffe said in his presentation. "It's not just
about ads in papers or on the web, but about relationships."
He recommended actively creating and participating in existent networks,
such as ConnecTra, and being ready to speak unabashedly about oneself
and what you would love to do. "When networking, you should always ask
people you connect with, 'Who else should I speak to about my goals?'"
He said, "You have to challenge your viewpoint on what you think work
is, where it is, and what you can do in the labour force. Generally,
employers are looking for skills other than just the job requirements.
Managers are looking for people with certain qualities, and the clearer
you are about who you are, the better you can effectively market
yourself. Of course, you have to know what is happening in Vancouver,
and the labour market trends."
Katajamaki addressed the B.C. government's Employment and Disability
Services Act, and opened up the floor for questions.
"The act recognizes that persons with disabilities (PWD) face unique
challenges in daily living and may require supports to employment or
continuous assistance," Katajamaki said. "Specialized services allow
persons with disabilities to take advantage of employment opportunities
as they come available. They receive an early exemption of $400 per
month, double what it was in 2002, so that's a stride forward for the
"These earning exemptions allow those with PWD designation to keep a
portion of their after-tax employment income, and are designed to
encourage people with disabilities, who are able to work, to maintain
their skills, to participate in the workplace as they are able, and to
have greater financial independence."
She further explained, "If a person with a disability leaves income
assistance, due to employment income in excess of assistance rates, they
maintain their PWD designation and maintain their medical benefits. You
do not have to reapply for the disability status to re-establish your
eligibility for assistance. The ministry allows you to go off and on,
and retain that status, and to assist you in attaining independence and
being able to get out into the workforce to earn a little bit of extra
This was Katajamaki's first visit to a ConnecTra event, and she
graciously answered questions from the floor that she could address on
the spot. She stayed on long after her official presentation, meeting
member's concerns face to face, and offering help as to where to turn to
get the needed information.
Howard told the membership, "A lot of the companies right now, are a
little apprehensive about hiring people with a Disability."
Apprehension and resultant barriers in the minds and policies of human
resources (HR) managers may come down to bottom line costs.
Speaking to an anonymous former HR manager from one of B.C.'s top 16
companies to work for (the company has and does hire qualified persons
with disabilities), the Disability News discovered the following:
||How much will it cost the company if a person
with a disability needs to go on sick leave?
||How will they get around in my buildings,
without us having to add ramps, accessibility devices and related
||How will my customers and staff relate to
someone with a physical or developmental impairment?
||How much educating can I
afford, not only for the person with a disability, but also for my core
staff, and for my customers?
According to ConnecTra's Duncan, "It's a fear of the unknown and what it
would cost to bring someone in."
"You have to explain why it's a good asset to have you, said
Member Candace Larscheid
in the spontaneous open discussion that broke out. "I speak from
experience in retail, and to get in there, I had to totally convince
them why I am a good candidate."
Larscheid, 36, from Vancouver, has cerebral palsy and functions from a
"When you are a person with a disability, you are training them," she
said. "They don't know how to act around you. I've done volunteer work
from the age 12 on, and I didn't get a real paid job until I was 33
years old. So it's all about showing up in the company's place,
volunteering, and proving to employers that you can do the job. When it
comes to hiring, you put it to them why you are a good asset for them to
have. People with a disability must train the workforce to see how we
"How do I break down that hiring barrier?" was the expressed sentiment
in the room.
"We are gradually reducing it," Howard said, "by working with
understanding employers and positioning people in target companies and
showing that persons with disabilities are an asset in the workforce.
What we are hoping to do with the staffing service project is to send
out someone, who has the ability, but may not have the stamina for a
regular workweek. With a pool we can segment it, and provide.
a team for the job. Putting it through ConnecTra, we pay you, they pay
us, and it takes away the barrier of paperwork, education, other
expenses for the employer."
Motivational speaker Darren Childs, 42, of East Vancouver, presented his
experience of how to successfully penetrate and integrate into the work
force. Starting at McDonalds' restaurant at age 20 as the lobby host, he
quickly found that the key to overcoming perceived barriers as a person
with a disability on the job was to put his best foot forward with a
smile. For Childs, who happens to have cerebral palsy, it came down to
his attitude first, and how he would present himself.
"Remove the anger (about your disability) and you will remove half the
barriers right there," he said. "Your attitude speaks volumes about how
people see you. Focus on your talents, not on your disability. The thing
I took pride in, instead of saying, 'there are so many obstacles about
having a disability and getting employment, I'm just going to give up,'
was that I never gave up.
"Sometimes when we are attempting to break down barriers, we have to put
ourselves on the front page and be the advocates, the people who put up
with a lot of ignorance… so that the next generation of people who try
to enter the workforce won't have the same obstacles."
Childs recommended the crowd examine on an individual basis whether or
not their basic needs were being met, whether through B.C. Benefits, or
other kinds of financial support, because people do have choices.
I can ask myself, "What do I want to do?" I get an opportunity to look
for the career I would like to pursue."
The workshop closed with more lively discussion, rebuttals, and new
replies from the floor, and resulted in 22 ConnecTra members joining the
pools from the 25 in attendance.
"Our next step," according to Duncan, "is approaching the business
community, the HR managers, presenting the project and asking for their
assistance and support."