Tackling Ontario’s Skills Challenge with Inclusivity and Accessibility

Business owners across Ontario are struggling to find the hard-working, skilled, and engaged talent they need to grow and remain competitive. In a recent survey conducted by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), 77 per cent of Ontario businesses stated that access to talent remains the greatest obstacle for growing their competitiveness. With the global workforce currently transitioning at a rapid pace, the skills mismatch is a serious challenge that needs to be addressed.

Good talent is undoubtedly hard to find. Yet, many businesses are unaware of a rich talent pool eager to contribute to the growth of their organizations.

Can businesses afford to ignore a demographic that represents about 15 per cent of the population and that brings varied skill sets, diversity of thinking and expertise to the work force?

According to Statistics Canada, there are over 1.8 million Ontarians living with disabilities. People with disabilities represent an untapped talent pool that can help fuel innovative growth and a measured return on investment. Despite some very impressive statistics – 50 per cent have a high school diploma, 40 per cent have some form of post secondary credential – people with disabilities are employed at a significantly lower rate than people without disabilities.

Celebrating diversity and inclusion in the workplace is not just the right thing to do – it is a smart business decision that ultimately affects the bottom line.

“A diverse and inclusive workforce equates to better business results. From technology to health care, banking, to manufacturing, to retail, to transportation, there is no one place that people with disabilities cannot work,” explains Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

When it comes to hiring people with disabilities, the business opportunity is irrefutable.

Several research reports have shown that hiring people with disabilities has a positive effect on business performance.  According to reports, companies employing people with disabilities reduce overall costs and experience greater customer satisfaction. Contrary to myths that accommodating people with disabilities is costly, most accommodations do not have an associated cost and the average one-time cost is less than $500.

According to a 2001 Statistics Canada survey, 90 per cent of people with disabilities did as well or better at their jobs than non-disabled colleagues. The study also reported that staff retention was 72 per cent higher among people with disabilities and 86 per cent rated average or better in attendance.

Another study conducted by American retail pharmacy chain Walgreens found that their employees with disabilities had a 40 per cent lower safety incident rate, a 63 per cent lower rate of absence due to accidents, and 78 per cent lower overall costs associated with accidents.

In addition to the positive contribution people with disabilities make to productivity, retention and innovation, companies that reduce barriers and create more inclusive environments also benefit from greater customer loyalty.

The number of Ontarians, including their immediate family members that are affected by a disability represents 53 per cent of the population.  It is estimated that 78 per cent of Canadians are more likely to buy from businesses that are inclusive and have accommodating hiring practices over those that do not.  The purchasing power of this demographic is growing and it is estimated that by 2035, 40 per cent of Ontario’s consumer base will be people with disabilities – that’s a huge chunk of the market that no business can afford to lose.

What can Ontario businesses do to become more inclusive and find the talent they need to remain competitive?  It starts with accessing information, increasing awareness and reviewing policies and practices that may not contribute to accessible recruitment and hiring.  The Discoverability Network was established specifically to assist businesses better understand the business case for hiring people with disabilities, help navigate the recruitment and hiring process and link to talent. For more information, visit: Discoverability.Network.

As Rossi noted, “We need to find practical solutions to skill and reskill our workforce, ensuring shared prosperity for all. Creating inclusive workplaces is a critical part of that.”

This article was originally published in ‘Biznes Magazine.