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Thunder Bay Job Search Strategies Forum Report

October 3, 2007

Introduction

The Thunder Bay forum was held at Lakehead University. It was the ninth event in a four-year NEADS’ Job Search Strategies Forums Project, addressing practical aspects of successful transition from school to the employment market. Delegates represented a number of colleges and universities in northern Ontario, particularly the Thunder Bay region. Student participants were attending the following post-secondary institutions: Lakehead University, Algoma University, Confederation College, Laurentian University, Nipissing University, Canadore College, Collège Boréal, Sault College and Brock University. Altogether 64 people took part in the day-long employment session: students, graduates, employers, career counsellors/professionals and representatives from non-governmental organizations. About 10 audience members participated in the workshop through video conferencing which was available at Laurentian University and another 9 audience members joined in through the online webcast.

The NEADS Thunder Bay Job Search Strategies Forum included two workshop panels, an exhibit area, and one-on-one resume consultations with career counsellors over the lunch period. The exhibit area included displays and representatives from: BMO Financial Group, IBM Canada, The Independent Living Resource Centre, Ontario March of Dimes, Ontario Power Generation and YES Employment Services.

Welcome

Jennifer Dillon - Job Search Strategies Consultant, NEADS

Tim McIsaac - Vice President Internal and Manitoba Representative, NEADS

Jennifer Dillon and Tim McIsaac welcomed 45 participants in Thunder Bay at Lakehead University and 10 people at Laurentian University in Sudbury who joined the meeting via a video-conference. For this meeting NEADS also offered webstreaming, both video and audio. Since August 2005, NEADS has organized nine Job Search Strategies forums; in partnership with BMO Capital Markets. The Thunder Bay forum was the first event in the second phase of the project, with eight forums planned over the next two years.

McIsaac said this was his third time participating in a Job Search Strategies Forum. “I hope you get a lot of good ideas and feel energized about your education and careers,” he said. The next NEADS national conference will be held in Ottawa in one year’s time, with details to be posted on the NEADS website. McIsaac said he was excited about the Thunder Bay forum being a multi-site event, and encouraged everyone to participate fully.

Dillon thanked John DeGiacomo, the manager of the Student Placement and Co operative Education Centre at Lakehead University, for his work in making the forum possible.

DeGiacomo said he was excited both to host the ninth Job Search Strategies Forum, and to have it in Northern Ontario.

Dillon thanked DeGiacomo for being part of the network building and partnerships that make the forum possible, and introduced a video produced by BMO Capital Markets entitled: The Power of Education—Equity through Education.

The video describes the generation of $1.6 million from the commission of institutional equity trades across North America on May 11, 2005 for the Equity Through Education Program. The money raised improves access to education and provides people with opportunities they might not otherwise have had. Some of the Canadian organizations assisted by this money include: NEADS, the Foundation for the Advancement of Aboriginal Youth, the Canadian Merit Scholarship Foundation, and Pathways to Education. In the video, recipients of these awards express their gratitude for the program.

Following the video presentation Dillon thanked the thoughtful and committed group at BMO, and explained that just as the success of the project relies heavily on networking and partnership building, so too do career paths.

Panel Presentations A

Transition from School to Work

Stephen McDonnell - Senior Advisor, External Communications, Talent Management and Diversity, BMO Financial Group

McDonnell said he is very moved by students with disabilities and how they are building careers for themselves. “I’m a big believer that you should have control over your own life and decisions, and be empowered to make them,” he said.

He described BMO’s Equity Through Education as a charitable initiative aimed at creating a more diverse workplace by offering education opportunities to people who do not have them. “I’m going to bring you my 25 years of experience. I am also disabled. I understand how it is to be in that position,” McDonnell said. Drawing strength from the diversity of people and businesses creates insistence upon respect for everyone, and encourages everyone to have a voice.

To combat the lack of diversity in the workplace, BMO developed an internal task force in November 1992 looking into employment of people living with disabilities. The task force revealed a perception that people with disabilities cannot do a job, or need special treatment in the workplace. The reality is much different, McDonnell said. Eighty percent of individual workplace accommodations can be achieved at a reasonable cost. Research shows that people with disabilities do not take as much sick leave as other employees. Furthermore, new advancements in technology have opened doors for many people.

Information gathered by the task force has led to several recommendations for diversifying the workforce at BMO. These include experiential learning, internships, co-ops, work placements, job shadowing, community outreach, and partnerships.

Several critical issues arise when it comes to entering the workforce, McDonnell said, the most significant being education and experience. Whether education is incomplete or lacking altogether, it can be a major hurdle and focal point. In addition, a lack of practical experience or job experience can affect a new worker’s ability to enter the job market.

McDonnell recommended keeping a journal before and while searching for a job, including every hour spent volunteering, which strategies have been used, and any networking accomplished.

He advised participants to use a “success team” as they journey through the employment process. This team can be as large as four to five people, and may include a fellow graduate, an instructor, an entrepreneur, someone who works in human resources, a university job placement officer, or simply someone who is honest and willing to offer constructive criticism.

People living with disabilities must take an additional step in the job search process, McDonnell said. Disclosing a disability is a very personal thing. A person is not required in any job situation to say they have a disability, and it is illegal for an employer to ask. Instead, applicants must simply say they require accommodation. “Disabilities are a natural part of life. People are just afraid of what they don’t understand,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell emphasized the importance of researching companies during a job search, and encouraged participants to know what the company does, and what it stands for. Annual reports, corporate values, or corporate responsibility documents are all good sources of this information.

Only after this research is complete should participants begin applying for jobs. “A resumé is the essential tool to market yourself,” McDonnell said. A resumé is an inventory of work-related experiences, skills, knowledge, and academic achievements. It must create a strong, positive impression, and it must provide an accurate description of what the job seeker can bring to an employment relationship. McDonnell described some basic elements of a resumé:

  • Include a summary or statement of objectives, and list of accomplishments.
  • The resumé should be written in the active voice.
  • A resumé should not be a life story, but rather, a summary of past experience and accomplishments.
  • It should be simple, with no other accessories included.
  • It should not contain personal pronouns like “I,” and it should be free of errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

When employers see a mistake on a resumé, McDonnell said, they will tend to pass over that person.

After submitting a resumé, the job seeker should prepare for the interview. This gives both the employer and the applicant an opportunity to determine whether the job is a good fit. The interviewer must be informed of any accommodations that might be required, so these can be arranged prior to the interview. For example, it is helpful to ask which entrance is accessible, or to inform the employer that a companion animal will be present. It is also important to remember that the interview is neither an educational opportunity for the interviewer nor an appropriate forum for advocacy.

“People like me who have been in HR for 25 years have encountered many disabilities over the years. Your disability is very important to you, but the interview isn’t a time for advocacy,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell described the “four P’s” to keep in mind for an interview. Prepare for the interview itself; and participate by asking insightful questions about the job and the company. Employers like people who are interested in the company and the job, he said. Practice before the interview by holding mock interviews with friends or other mentors. Perception is the fourth P, McDonnell said. First impressions are often lasting ones. It is important to look professional during the interview. If any adaptive technology or a companion animal is required, ensure that everything is working and that the interviewer is aware of the situation. The interviewer may have an allergy, and this could be awkward for both the applicant and interviewer. Always have a backup plan just in case something happens to fail, McDonnell said: it never hurts to plan ahead.

Participants must know their own boundaries when it comes to disclosure. “You don’t want to be anyone’s pet or inspiration; you want to be a colleague and respected for your abilities,” McDonnell said. “Focus on ability, not disability. Companies want to hire based on ability.”

A company can do many things to accommodate disability. McDonnell described BMO’s accommodation of an employee with narcolepsy: the company built them a sleep room. “That’s as far as we are legally required to go. It’s an important part of accommodation,” McDonnell said.

Orientation and training are important once a job has been accepted, and participants should expect to take the time to learn the company’s culture and values. McDonnell said this orientation “goes on forever.” Employees become familiar with the company by asking questions and actively participating. Regarding disclosure, McDonnell said employees must be aware of any health and safety issues that may arise, and must disclose any information necessary to avoid health or safety issues.

McDonnell emphasized the importance of being proactive and getting involved. Participants will be hired on ability, he said. He quoted Pierre Elliot Trudeau: “Be ready when opportunity comes…luck is the time when preparation and opportunity meet.”

Online Resumés and Job Applications

Nirav Patel - Senior Staffing Consultant, Ontario Power Generation

Nirav Patel said he would focus on online resumés and application procedures. Ontario Power Generation is an Ontario-based Crown corporation that hires from inside the province, and is seeking to hire students from Lakehead University and Laurentian University, he said.

When he goes to career fairs, Patel said, people always bring stacks of resumés with them. However, some companies—including Ontario Power Generation—accept only online resumés. Larger corporations simply do not have the resources to look through paper copies, and if the company is not centralized, the right people may never see a paper resumé. For example, a person in Thunder Bay and a person in Toronto may have a different understanding of what is needed for a position, and this can create problems.

Patel said his would be an interactive presentation, and he invited the audience to participate. Participants asked a number of questions, which Patel answered.

One participant expressed frustration with online applications. “If you come across a business whose application system does not work, you should try to contact someone there,” Patel said. Contact information is usually available for a person in human resources, who can assist. The employer should be made aware when the system is not accessible to a person with a particular disability. The employer can then identify an alternative route or change the system to be more fully inclusive.

Another participant said that websites have different capabilities in responding to assistive technology, and asked how to “overcome accessibility issues when it comes to online applications.” These applications can change formatting on resumés and cover letters, and the participant asked whether this would change how the information was perceived. Patel said that formatting on resumés does not usually turn out on the employer’s end. Special formatting makes things more difficult to read and can be a hindrance for the employer.

A participant asked how to make a personal connection with a company when online applications do not support that. Patel agreed that it is important to make connections with the company, and suggested career fairs as a good way to do this. “You would be surprised who gets an interview. People who somehow captivate us, that is who gets an interview—individuals who show enthusiasm and knowledge of the company,” Patel said. A person should name what they are studying, where, what they are looking for, and anything they know about the position. Knowledge of the company and the position will help a person strike up a conversation with someone at the company. All this should be done in addition to submitting an online application.

While electronic resumés have no eye-catching formatting, Patel said, the lack of bullets, bolding, and graphics does allow them to be easily cut and pasted into electronic job applications. They may look plain to the applicant but to the recruiter, they look wonderful and coherent. However, a good covering letter can make a resumé stand out. Patel also recommended that participants answer all the pre-screen questions and try to follow up at information sessions and career fairs. A cover letter should state interest in the position and company, as well as knowledge about the company, he said.

A participant from Laurentian University asked about the time it takes to fill out an online application, and whether there is an easier way. Patel said some people think it will take a very long time to apply online, but that looking for a job is a job in itself. “I encourage everyone who is looking for full-time employment to really put the time into applying for a job.” He agreed that online applications do take time, but if the resumé and cover letter are good, half the work is already done. He encouraged participants to use both job boards and corporate sites when looking for a job, since both have advantages. Patel gave participants his contact information and encouraged any who are interested in Ontario Power Corporation to use it.

Finding Strategies That Can Work for You

David Shannon - David Shannon Law Office

David Shannon said that 26 years ago, while playing rugby at the University of Waterloo, he had an accident. Afterward, he came to Lakehead University and found it very welcoming. He said Thunder Bay had the best practices to assist those with disabilities—better than those in Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver.

“I had specific goals in mind. I knew I wanted to go to school.” Shannon said he is shocked by the level of poverty and lack of education among people living with disabilities. With such high levels of poverty, Shannon said, the best way to level the playing field is through post-secondary education.

“Education for education’s sake is a great thing,” Shannon said, emphasizing the importance of beginning education earlier rather than later. Public perception and a lack of community support have allowed discrimination to continue. Public policy must change, both individually and collectively. The duty to accommodate is about undoing financial hardships, and safety should be a key concern for anyone searching for a job. While a small employer might not have encountered someone with a disability before, and may not accommodate them, bridge-building language should be used, never demands. Accommodation is about finding creative solutions, Shannon said. He emphasized the importance not only of seeing through the disability lens, but also of looking through the employer’s lens. Living with a disability requires a strong support system to achieve goals. Personal passions and abilities should merge so those goals can be achieved.

Disability should be used creatively and in a positive way. People with disabilities can bring unique perspectives to the workplace. For example, someone living with a disability understands what it means to rely on others and manage people. “That’s leadership, something you can bring to the workplace,” Shannon said.

Shannon said that when he started his own law firm, he ran into barriers. He cited the example of the barriers women faced in the 1980s when trying to establish careers. To overcome these barriers, women established their own law firms. “Spin your disability into a positive and learn from other methods that have worked in the past,” he said.

Shannon said education is a lifelong experience, and it is important to have a good work ethic. If all else fails, he said, “Go out and get a power suit.”

Discussion

Responding to an earlier question, McDonnell said that there is no requirement to disclose a disability to an employer, and legally, the employer cannot ask. Sometimes the disability may be obvious, but even so, there is no requirement actually to state it. McDonnell said that in some situations—such as mental health disabilities, including schizophrenia—it is not appropriate to disclose. Before disclosing any information, participants should consult a caseworker. The emphasis should be on accommodation and what a person needs to get the job done; the interview should not be about activism, and it should not focus on the disability. “If this is the case, you will not get the job,” McDonnell said.

A participant from Sudbury asked whether it is legal to ask about marital status, and whether it reflects badly on an applicant who refuses to answer optional questions.

McDonnell emphasized that optional questions are optional. For some provincial positions, recruiters hope to increase representation of certain groups, and it can work in an applicant’s favour to answer such questions. He suggested that participants ask how the information will be used and whether or not it will remain confidential, but invited them to consider filling out the optional questions.

A participant from Lakehead asked about Aboriginal organizations and the availability of information about jobs for this group. The participant had done some research, but had come across no information on Thunder Bay or Fort Frances organizations.

Patel said organizations exist to canvass special agencies, and the scope is diverse. If they are not agencies from a particular network, someone should facilitate the group. Agencies may not have every organization on the roster; there are no complete lists. He invited the participant to take the discussion offline and discuss it further.

A participant from Lakehead said online applications seem more relevant in Toronto. The participant described how, after applying for a position with the Royal Bank of Canada—even with a personal contact who wanted to extend a job offer—the requirement to fulfill the application process took a long time. The lack of continuity led to the loss of the opportunity.

McDonnell said that he shares this frustration. A manager in downtown Toronto would have the same problem, and it is a very frustrating system that needs to change.

Patel said that online systems sometimes disregard logic; he promotes them for their organizational advantages. A great deal of reporting is done through this kind of system because companies must report back to the government about employment equity information, he said. The system is used to capture information in a database. In addition, security checkpoints must be met for online application systems. They provide a simple way for recruiters to locate and review information. While it is not a great reporting tool, Patel said, it is all that is available.

Another participant from Lakehead described “stupid questions” posed during interviews, and said that blindness does not prevent one applicant from having the same capabilities as others. A potential employer once asked whether the entire work environment would have to be changed to accommodate the participant, who asked the presenters whether this kind of question is legal.

An employer cannot discriminate in an interview, Shannon said; questions must fall within the boundaries of good taste. An employer may well wish to ask whether they can provide any accommodation in the workplace. However, he said, it is important not to make a disability the subject of the interview, and so the quick answer to this question is “No.” The second answer is to turn the question into a positive opportunity to focus on skills, and the applicant’s passion for the job.

McDonnell said that some questions must be asked of someone who is visually impaired. “I would ask if you would benefit from different lighting. I can’t assume how much vision you have. There are degrees of vision,” he said. McDonnell agreed that these questions might seem strange to an applicant the first time they are asked. “Those are the kinds of things that companies are learning to ask.”

A participant from Sudbury recalled the discussion about adaptive technology and asked for examples of human support and how to ask for it. For example, technology can only take a person with learning disabilities so far.

McDonnell suggested participants consider what worked during their education. Major companies will provide human support to make an individual successful, but support technology may also be available—and the applicant may be unaware of it. Companies will not hesitate to do an assessment to identify the best option for the applicant or new employee, whether it is adaptive technology or human support. He said an applicant should ask about this upfront.

Patel advised participants to be vocal and honest about what they need. He said he looks to the employee to identify what is needed because he does not always understand the technology or other available forms of assistance.

Shannon said that during the break, a participant had asked whether it is the applicant’s responsibility to bring any support required for an interview, or whether the employer will provide it.

Patel said that while he cannot speak for all employers, his company would ask what is needed, and would provide it. McDonnell said that in terms of accommodation, the employer is required to provide the necessary assistance to the employee and pay for it. “If you are working with an employer who doesn’t know what it is or wants to bill you for it, you don’t want to work for them.”

A participant from Lakehead noted the frustration involved in setting a career direction and searching for a job, and asked for suggestions to help remain positive during the low times.

Shannon advised participants to stay interested, perhaps by networking and maintaining connections. Participants should attend workshops, seminars such as this forum, or do things relating to their career of choice. He emphasized the value of maintaining a network with potential employers as well as a support network. In addition, participants should make contact with people to let them know they are still interested in the position. “Often I’ve seen people fall off the radar. Then that phone call will make them realize they do have a position available and that can grow,” Shannon said.

Patel said that once a position is secured, it is important to get involved with the company. He encouraged people to get involved with clubs, committees, or councils. He explained that these sub-groups are important because they create networking inside the company and provide differing perspectives. They can also help create change in the workplace.

NEADS Equity Through Education Awards Program and Mentorship Program

Julia Munk - Project Consultant, Equity Through Education Student Awards and Campus Group Awards Program and Mentorship Program, NEADS

Julia Munk described the two types of awards in the NEADS Equity Through Education Student Awards and Campus Group Awards Program. The first is a $3,000 individual student award to offset the cost of tuition and any other fees students pay to a university or college. Four of these awards are given each year: three are designated, for a college student, a university student, and a graduate student respectively. The second type of award is a student group award or campus committee award. Only one of these awards is granted per year, based on project proposals submitted by a student group, and its maximum value is $5,000. To be eligible for the campus group award, applicants must be part of a student organization with a clear mandate that is directed toward disabled students, and the proposal must have a clear outcome. The amount of the award varies from year to year depending on the proposals submitted.

Applications for both awards are available on the NEADS website, Munk said. She recommended that applications be completed online rather than sent in, but said that NEADS will accommodate other needs. This year’s individual scholarship deadline is December 1. For the 2006/2007 NEADS Equity Through Education Student Scholarship Program six student awards were given out as we received no campus group applications.

NEADS is also developing a mentorship program, Munk said. The organization administered a survey to identify key issues in a mentorship experience last year and is currently looking for mentors. She invited participants interested in becoming mentors to talk to her or e-mail her. An application form was available at the forum.

Dillon asked what supporting documents are needed for an application to the Student Awards Program. Munk said documentation of enrolment is required, as well as documentation of academic history—not specifically a transcript, but a list of courses being taken. NEADS will also request two references, one for community involvement and an academic reference, and proof of a disability.

A participant from Lakehead asked about the role of the mentor. Munk said there is currently no set description, since the organization is still considering how to structure the program. It could be a one-to-one relationship with the student, she said, conducted in person or through e-mail.

Dillon asked whether mentors would assist more with job searching or with academic pursuits.

Munk said that for the first year, students would be matched with mentors in the workforce. As the program develops, however, NEADS may develop a generational program that matches high school students with university students.

Dillon thanked Munk and encouraged participants to take advantage of the resumé consultations taking place over lunch, and to continue networking.

Panel Presentations B

Conducting an Effective Job Search

Sharon Kovacic - YES Employment Services (YES)

“Concentrate on career planning, and accessing resources in communities and how to find the resources, and what works best for you,” Sharon Kovacic told participants. Assistance is available through university, college, and government programs, and through community-based organizations. The best resource tool for an employment search is the Internet, she said.

Kovacic told participants that having a clear idea of their personal interests would be the most important factor in their success—incorporating a well-defined goal and a plan to achieve it. By thinking broadly and narrowing focus, participants can identify the interests for which they feel the strongest passion. Following a passion reflects well to employers: passionate people are easily noticeable and distinct from other potential job candidates.

Having established a goal, participants must take steps to achieve it. Kovacic recommended accessing college or university programs to gain necessary academic skills and credentials and employment programs such as YES. YES provides a list of questions to help job-hunters think of new directions, leading them to a more conclusive focus. In addition, the Job Bank site at www.jobbank.ca offers interest-based career exploration.

Participants should seek assistance to help reach their goals. Kovacic recommended they “shop around” among different job developers until they find a comfortable environment that suits their needs. Job developers offer beneficial services and resources that help refine the job search.

“Examine the skills and experience required for the job,” Kovacic said. “Maybe you have them, but that doesn’t always happen.” Employment agencies can help with training and education. Kovacic suggested speaking with people who work in a particular field to learn the pros and cons of the job.

It is crucial to be realistic, with honest and supportive people to offer suggestions, assess the situation, and give honest feedback. “If you do not have the education or training for a job, it has to be included in your goal.”

Participants should consider the local labour market in the city where they wish to work, to identify where opportunities exist. Participants who are currently enrolled in a specific course should identify career opportunities available in that field.

Kovacic recommended that participants keep lifestyle in mind and examine whether a job opportunity offers wages or position advancement in line with their goals. They should consider the hours of work per week as well as commute time or the shifts available, she said.

Once a final, specific selection has been made, it is time to talk over the decision with a career counsellor.

Participants must remember to “network, network, network,” Kovacic said, especially with “anyone in the academic community” who has connections. Use networks, make key contacts, and stay in touch.

“Utilize places that help you do your resumé,” Kovacic said. YES offers three-hour resumé workshops or the option to meet with someone on a one-on-one basis. Kovacic said, “Very rarely do they do a general resumé,” so applicants must know exactly what they want.

Employment services can help access a hidden job market—jobs not listed online or in the newspaper. “Here you can post your resumé and see companies that are listing wage subsidies. They want people who have wage subsidies attached.” Kovacic encouraged the use of a job developer because “a job developer can tell you what you can expect. It is an advantage if you aren’t good at self-marketing.”

Employer-sponsored training and workshops are very beneficial. “If you are in a specific field, look for professional organizations that sponsor training or workshops, and take them.” Participants can combine a networking opportunity with the training required for a specific job.

Kovacic encouraged participants to be organized in their job search, and consider the effort a job in itself, worthy of all the time they can devote to it. She said it is important to stay positive, not to take things personally—“There could be plenty of reasons why you didn’t get the job; a relative could have been hired or finances might have been cut”—and keep searching until you attain the job. Most important, she said, do not take out a loan. “The government encourages working or being in school, so use it to your advantage.”

First-Hand Employment Experience

Robert Cella - IBM Canada Ltd.

Building strong communication skills, both verbal and written, is key to job performance and effectiveness, Robert Cella said. He encouraged participants to maintain relationships with coworkers, something that has greatly helped him.

During Cella’s third year in university, he began investigating possible co-op positions. After being rejected numerous times, Cella was invited to do his co-op placement with IBM. Upon hearing this news, Cella said, he was shocked but excited. He did not actually believe the man who offered him the position, and said he thought he must have had “an early happy hour.” Cella said he learned that IBM promotes diversity in the workplace, and his co-op was a natural step for the company. Shortly after Cella joined the company, his co-op turned into a full-time job with IBM, and he continues to work there.

Cella credits his success to his initiative, which set him apart from other job candidates. He enhanced his resumé by pursuing certification, buying books to learn programming in addition to what he was learning in school, and did everything he could to differentiate himself from the other candidates.

“That is key for disabled persons,” said Cella. “If you’re willing to be a better employee, [your employers] will see that. They will see that you are showing initiative and you are willing to be the best you can be for your career.”

Cella emphasized that disabilities should be presented as a side note, not something that prevents an applicant from doing the job well. Although Cella needed small accommodations in the workplace because of his wheelchair, his company easily provided them. He now works remotely from home.

For example, he said, a person in a wheelchair could request that the office’s secretary open the door when he or she arrives in the morning. “Allow them to ask questions, to express their concerns; wipe the slate clean to allow for a full understanding to help you—how they could address it if they were to hire you.”

IBM provided Cella with a caseworker and carefully examined his workplace, assessing items that would be problematic for him. Everything was a concern, including where he would park, what doors to use, which bathrooms were accessible, and whether the elevator’s buttons were within reach. Cella’s caseworker brought every item to her team and adjustments were begun.

Accessible housing in Toronto proved the biggest obstacle for Cella. A manager switch at IBM benefited him, when the new manager offered him an opportunity to work remotely from Thunder Bay with accommodations for everything he would need to be successful.

Cella said he has excelled through his remote work, and has had the benefit of working laterally within IBM.

IBM enables employees to switch positions. Cella said he has been a Lotus Notes programmer, a project control officer, and a business analyst. He now works as the administrator for a database that serves all of IBM’s customers.

Cella said he faces many challenges on the job, but the biggest is that of maintaining relationships with his coworkers and clients while working remotely. Cella said he has adapted by making a real effort to communicate. He takes mental or tangible notes to help him remember details about his coworkers, such as whether someone’s son plays soccer, to create a better working relationship. Communication skills are important. “Be clear and concise. If you have confusion, it can lead to a lot of further confusion. It is very important to be clear and concise on the phone or e-mail.”

Cella said his interpersonal relationship skills allow his coworkers to see him as an actual person and not just a name, despite his remote location. Socializing with coworkers makes him a more effective employee, because it highlights his ability to be part of a team, and illuminates his outgoing personality. Going out to watch football or eat nachos with coworkers helps them feel more comfortable with him, and Cella said these are small steps to being recognized as a strong member of the team.

Cella encouraged participants to keep looking for opportunities to build skills and promote their careers. Most companies are willing to fund a course that will benefit an employee’s performance on the job. It is also helpful to be enthusiastic, outgoing, social, and to build up network connections. A positive attitude leaves a lasting impression on employers, Cella said.

Opportunities in the Public Sector

Stephan Borau - Ontario Public Service (OPS)

Stephan Borau said that the OPS employs 65,000 people across Ontario, providing support and services to the government. Its goals include being a model employer in the area of accessibility, while serving the public and upholding the public’s trust.

More employers are realizing that diversity is an effective component of a successful work force, Borau said. “There is an emphasis on recruiting and maintaining diversity; having a monoculture does not create an adaptable creative workforce.”

OPS offers thousands of opportunities in all fields such as health, citizen engagement, justice, tourism, immigration, and “anything that goes on in Ontario,” Borau said. OPS employees have meaningful work and a competitive salary along with the opportunity to work laterally and experiment with different roles, all with one employer.

Students’ many opportunities to work with OPS include internships in natural resources, human resources, engineering, policy development, communications, business and finance, and project management.

Currently, OPS offers a variety of summer positions, employing about 4,000 students over the past two years. An exchange program with the Quebec government gives interested students an opportunity to improve their bilingual skills. Job opportunities are also available in northern areas: a First Nations youth work program is designed to give experience on different assignments. These positions are available in the greater Thunder Bay area, extending to Sault Ste. Marie.

OPS offers many positions for graduates across the province as well, Borau said.

The Employee Accommodation Fund (EAF) provides accommodations to applicants and to employees after they are hired. “As an applicant, you should be aware of the EAF if you need accommodations. Through the application process, there is a centralized fund that the employers can tap into.” Because the EAF provides accommodations, no financial burden falls on OPS managers themselves. “There is an obligation for us to accommodate anyone and everyone throughout the whole application process,” Borau said.

OPS makes accommodations for hiring and “all positions are open to the public and are available through the career portal.”

OPS has a very structured and extremely formal recruitment process, Borau said, with a technical test and a panel interview process with two or three people. The process is open and transparent, asking all candidates the same questions and treating everyone fairly.

Borau said the disclosure of a disability is a personal choice. “Only disclose what you need at the time you need to, such as what accommodations you might need at an interview.”

The OPS website allows access for regular job postings; and new postings are added every Friday. All postings available to the public are found at www.ontario.ca/careers.

Participants can review valuable information about the ministry online at www.ontario.ca. If a job description is not available, Borau said, they can find the contact information and inquire; every applicant is entitled to know the job description.

NEADS Web-Based Employment Resources

Chris Gaulin - Website Architect, NEADS

NEADS was established in 1986 to promote full access to post-secondary education and employment after graduation, said Chris Gaulin. Employment and the transition from school to work are now primary issues for the association. Participants will find information to help in a job search on the NEADS website at www.neads.ca. “Our online work system, NOWS (NEADS Online Work System) www.nows.ca is our pride and joy right now.”

A 12-person board of directors, with a representative from each province and territory, governs NEADS. Members of the board include college and university students.

In 1994, Gaulin said, the organization created a panel of employers, the Employer Advisory Council to NEADS, to help new graduates and students develop strategies for careers. In 1996, the organization created a mentorship program, and from 2001 to 2003 it held meetings across Canada called Student Leadership and Employment Forums to train local students in taking initiative both on campus and in communities. The current Job Search Strategies Forums began in 2005, and today’s meeting is the ninth in this project.

In 2003, NEADS launched the online work system to which specific employers have access. It is a free for post-secondary students and graduates with disabilities to post resumés and cover letters on the NEADS job site for a target audience, and resumé building tools and new search functions will also be available on NOWS soon.

Although the website is smaller than other popular resumé employment websites, Gaulin said, it currently has about 60 job postings and on some days has twice that amount.

NEADS also operates the NEADS-L electronic discussion forum, which gives students an opportunity to connect with other students through e-mail. Currently on www.nows.ca, over 1,600 students are registered—over 700 of them in Ontario alone. There are 94 Canadian employers representing 25 different sectors registered to use the service.

Gaulin recommended that participants consider employment resources published by NEADS, including Employment Connections, which helps students connect with employment agencies and services, and Access to Success, which provides tips to employers looking to hire persons with disabilities.

NEADS holds bi-annual conferences, with the next scheduled to be held in Ottawa in November 2008. Gaulin advised participants to check the NEADS website regularly for information on the conference which will be announced soon.

Although the NEADS website focuses on people living with disabilities, “we don’t ask what type of disability you have.” Gaulin told participants to visit www.nows.ca for resources and more information on registration, or to contact Frank Smith, the National Cooordinator at the Ottawa office: tel. 613 526 8008, or frank.smith@neads.ca.

Discussion

A participant asked Kovacic to explain the difference between a job developer and a career counsellor. A career counsellor gives a job hunter an assessment, Kovacic said, helping with career planning and making sure his or her skills are up-to-date. The job developer will go out and seek employers, connect with them, and market a job hunter to them.

Another participant asked whether it is acceptable to bring a laptop to an interview. Some people bring a laptop or notes, Borau said, but this might show a lack of confidence. It is best to be prepared, answering confidently and quickly. Dillon said she had brought her laptop, to demonstrate what software she used. If it will be beneficial to the interview, she said, it is good to have on hand. McDonnell said that some people with brain injuries would need to bring a laptop to type material and absorb it. He said it is important to clear that with the employer to ensure it is acceptable.

A participant asked about help for people with disabilities who wish to be self-employed. Kovacic said YES offers no self-employment programs. Borau said the provincial and federal governments do have programs for entrepreneurs and can provide funding, and advised the participant to consult federal and provincial websites for information. Cella said he had done his own Web page design to make money while in university. However, he said, it is important to have a network to drive these business opportunities.

A participant asked whether there is a program like EAF that focuses on people with disabilities.

Borau said that in the next cycle, OPS would try to incorporate those who have disabilities. While he was unsure whether a full internship program would be available, he said that should be more clearly defined by March of 2008.

A participant asked Borau whether he would be visiting Nipissing or North Bay. Borau said that there is no presence in North Bay currently, but that he expects to be there in the spring.

A participant asked Cella whether he sees the corporate world expanding on IBM’s idea to allow him to work remotely. Cella said that for some time, IBM has promoted a policy to allow work to be done from home if there is a requirement to be there. Whether or not it is feasible to do this depends on the position, and to a certain extent, IBM does want employees to be onsite.

Another participant asked whether companies embrace the idea that the barrier has disappeared for people with disabilities, since home can offer the best accommodation and work can be done from that location. Cella said that as technology increases, it is possible that this will be the case in the future. It is more difficult for home-based workers to call in sick, or be late due to traffic or a long wait for an accessible bus or taxi.

A participant asked about the new legislation and whether work will be available for people with disabilities, perhaps in consultations. Noting that the new program seems broad, the participant asked whether there are committees for it.

Borau said that while committees have not been formed to date, they would be the people to get involved with the program.

A participant asked Kovacic how much employment services charge and how long they work with a candidate. Kovacic said that there is no charge for programs like Job Connect, and services are generally free of charge; however, some employment agencies do charge.

Closing remarks

Dillon asked participants to complete their evaluation forms to assess the day, noting that all suggestions are used to help NEADS plans for future forums. She said feedback would be especially appreciated since this event marked the first attempt to use online resources and a videoconference to Sudbury.

Dillon summarized the day’s most important points:

  • A success team is important for support, suggestions, and feedback.
  • It is critical to network yourself.
  • Learn to navigate online job resources and do not wait until the last minute to fill out forms.
  • Portray any disability in a positive light.
  • Develop clear goals with a well-thought-out, organized approach to a job search.
  • Constantly improve your skill set.
  • Be enthusiastic about new opportunities.
  • Take advantage of any available programs and opportunities.
  • Become familiar with online services and resources.

Dillon encouraged participants to take the next step in the journey of career development and use the forum as a learning tool. Discovering the joys and rewards of a job search can lead to a great source of satisfaction, she said, wishing participants the best of luck in their employment and educational pursuits.


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