Success Story: Turning Barriers into Opportunities

Sisters “Rebecca” and “Katie” came to CVE Inc. to look for part-time opportunities and met with Joanne Aherne, Employment Integration Specialist. (Please note that names have been changed to respect confidentiality).

This article tells their story, and showcases some of the strategies CVE uses to support job seekers with disabilities to surmount barriers to employment and achieve successful outcomes. EARN member CVE Inc. provides services to the disability community, employers, insurance providers, worker compensation boards, and government ministries.

Joanne began by creating a realistic Employment Plan for each job seeker based on their interests and job goals. It was decided at the outset that the employment plans would be comprehensive, covering everything from job search to setting up meetings with employers; both plans included Joanne attending meetings as a support and/or advocate.

Joanne’s focus in developing the plans was to remove barriers to employment. One of the most important things looked at was location. In the past getting to and from a job had been a barrier. Getting off a bus and crossing the street was also a challenge. The solution: to look at employment opportunities close to home. At CVE, we examine everything that could be a barrier, work to remove barriers and turn them into opportunities.

Rebecca was interested in working part-time as a cleaner so Joanne approached small businesses in her immediate neighbourhood. One employer, a restaurant owner, agreed to meet. Joanne requested a meeting, rather than an interview, as the first step in changing the conversation, an approach we value when developing relationships with employers.  Having a meeting has advantages over the traditional interview.  Meetings allow the employment counsellor to gain an understanding of the employer’s talent needs while simultaneously providing an opportunity to highlight job seeker skills and potential. We believe this approach allows employers to make an informed hiring decision.

Joanne disclosed that Rebecca understands what is said to her but has difficulty with expressing more than one or two words in response. Her strength is an amazing smile and her willingness to carry out job specific tasks. As a result of taking this approach, Rebecca was hired on the spot for 2 mornings of cleaning per week. Joanne continued to check in with both employee and employer to offer support. None was required.

Rebecca loved her new job, and a few months later, approached Joanne for help to find a second job. In fact, she used the first job as a stepping stone, to gain confidence, and to learn new skills. Staying close to home remained important to her because it automatically removed the barrier of transportation. Joanne found another part-time job in her neighbourhood. This time, the job was in a grocery store, counting and bagging fruit, a step up, more responsibility, and more of a learning curve.

Rebecca has remained in this second position. Joanne coached the first day and partnered with the client’s life coach. The life coach assisted on the job during the second shift. That was all that was required. Joanne still keeps in close touch with the employer, and all appears to be going well. Rebecca reports loving this job too.

Katie came to seek Joanne’s support at the same time. Katie wanted to work in retail, possibly at a mall. Using the same strategy as before, Joanne approached an employer, and once again changed the conversation by setting up a meeting, rather than an interview. This led to Katie being hired. She is now working part-time at a Value Village, near her home. She works as a floor associate, keeping areas neat and clean, helping with fitting rooms, and general recovery of items that need to be reorganized.

Joanne offered to be there for the orientation and training which required the reading of manuals and store policies, and some online training. No further coaching was required. Like Rebecca, Katie enjoys her job too.

Both these individuals are examples of people who just want to work. They needed some help to reach their goals: Joanne is proud when she sees them flourishing in their jobs.

Here are some of the strategies Joanne used to support her clients, strategies that could be applicable to other job seekers who face barriers to employment:

  • Create a comprehensive and realistic individually-tailored employment plan for each job seeker;
  • Identify barriers to employment and work not only to remove them but to find ways to turn barriers into opportunities;
  • Realize that approaching employers doesn’t have to be a complicated process. It is about knowing how to talk to people, anticipating employer needs, knowing your audience and moving forward with determination;
  • Consider arranging meetings with employers. The formal “interview” may not work for some job seekers with disabilities; and
  • Partner with other organizations to provide additional supports – this can make the difference in a successful transition to work – for example: a skilled life coach can help some employees with disabilities with daily activities and thereby increase their life skills and job competencies.

Thank you CVE for submitting this success story!

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