DAWSON CREEK – Although the Temporary Foreign Workers Program recently underwent several changes, local resident David Johnston hopes one more change will be added to the list.
Johnston, self-advocate and past president of BC People First, has been canvassing the Peace Region’s federal and provincial representatives for the past several weeks for their support in ensuring people with disabilities are considered for local jobs before employers seek out temporary foreign workers.
During their last meeting on July 8, the BC People First board sent a letter to Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney, requesting that a question be added to the Temporary Foreign Worker application form: has your organization attempted to hire a person with a disability?
Have you looked into programs such as the Working Together Wage subsidy program, Ability in Mind, or Ready, Willing and Able programs?
“We believe in the program, but we think that they should ask this one question first, before businesses are able to bring in foreign workers, to see if they have checked into the federal funding programs to hire disabled [individuals] first in Canada, if they are qualified,” said Johnston.
Johnston said that Kenney hasn’t replied yet, but hopes to be supported by MLA Mike Bernier when he plans to meet with him this week. Johnston said if their request is not fulfilled, he would be prepared to educate employers across the province about programs that can assist them in hiring individuals with disabilities.
The Ready, Willing and Able program aims to increase the employment rate of B.C. residents with developmental disabilities, by linking employers to employment specialists and establishing employer mentoring networks. They also deliver a professional development series that includes a ‘tool kit’ for employers about inclusive workplaces. Ability in Mind strives to shift the mindset of employers to see ability in all individuals.
“It’s an ongoing process, you know, and we just want the doors open for disabled people to be hired and the chance to be working in the workforce. We do know how to work, we are ready and able to work, that’s not always the case as it happens, but in a lot of cases there’s disabled people that have the qualifications and are ready to go to work right now,” Johnston said.
He admits that some individuals may not have the skills or be qualified to hold certain jobs, but believes some of those challenges can be remedied with on-the-job training.
“We aren’t against foreign workers being hired, we just want them to consider hiring local people if there’s people out there… I think they [employers] need to be educated that disabled people are capable,” said Johnston.
He recognizes that there are some businesses in Dawson Creek who have employed individuals with disabilities, but said that finding employment has always been a challenge. Johnston said that in the future he may utilize open-door businesses to promote hiring individuals with disabilities to other employers.
“I’ve been thinking about approaching them [open-door businesses] and having them approach other businesses, and educate them so other businesses will hire disabled people, that’s my next goal…It’s always been a challenge across B.C. and Canada,” he said.