Skills Gaps, Underemployment, and Equity of Labour-Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities in Canada
While people with disabilities can achieve socially integrated, financially independent lives through secure, well-paid employment, they are often trapped in low-skill jobs at high risk of automation. Emile Tompa, Daniel Samosh and Normand Boucher underscore the importance of training opportunities that are well aligned with the skills likely to be in high demand in the future.
One in five Canadians aged 15 years or older—about 6.2 million people—have one or more disabilities. In the workplace, these people face barriers getting the help they need. In Canada, persons with disabilities typically earn lower wages and are more precariously employed than the average worker. The future of work also presents challenges, as jobs where persons with disabilities find employment are often at risk of automation. More research is needed to understand issues around disability and employment, but the transition between school and work seems like a challenging time that employers and educational institutions could focus on helping persons with disabilities.
One in five Canadians aged 15 years or older—about 6.2 million people—have one or more disabilities. While people with disabilities can achieve socially integrated, financially independent lives through secure, well-paid employment, they are often trapped in low-skill jobs at high risk of automation.
In Canada, persons with disabilities typically earn lower wages and are more precariously employed than the average worker. Among Canadians aged 25 to 64, the rate of poverty is 40 per cent higher for persons with mild disabilities and nearly 200 per cent higher for those with more severe disabilities, than it is for Canadians without disabilities.
Examining the reasons that people with disabilities are underemployed reveals difficulties finding work and, once employed, difficulties requesting and getting the support they need to advance to their careers. Social stigma, a lack of understanding, and a lack of supports at many life stages further compounds the challenges that persons with disabilities face.
In the future of work, these challenges will likely be exacerbated, as jobs where persons with disabilities typically find employment are often at risk of automation – namely low-skilled, low-education jobs. And while some job categories are projected to experience growth in the years to come, such as the managerial and professional categories, persons with disabilities find themselves underrepresented in these “growth” categories.
To eliminate barriers to employment for people with disabilities, employers, policymakers, healthcare workers, educators, architects, and engineers must be educated to develop “disability confidence.” Disability confident employers have the knowledge to create inclusive and accessible work environments and advocate for social change within and beyond their organizations.
Beyond that, more research is needed to understand issues around disability and employment, including how automation will affect jobs, how employers can support the transition from school to work, and which accommodation practices will help educators and employers make the future world of work more equitable and inclusive.
In particular, research suggests that the transition between school and work appears to be a major challenge for persons with disabilities. Educational institutions and employers could leverage this transition into an opportunity, providing persons with disabilities skills, competencies, and credentials (persons with mild disabilities are already well-educated) to connect into jobs in high growth industries experiencing a need for workers.
Dr. Emile Tompa is a senior scientist at the Institute for Work & Health at the University of Toronto and associate professor in the Department of Economics at McMaster University. He is co-director of the Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy (CRWDP), an initiative funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Tompa is an associate editor for the BMC Public Health, and is on the editorial board of the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation and the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health. He has an MBA from the University of British Columbia, an MA in economics from the University of Toronto, and a PhD in economics from McMaster University. Tompa’s current research agenda is centred on labour-market experiences and their health and human development consequences; policy analysis of occupational health and safety and work disability prevention systems; and the evaluation of workplace interventions directed at improving the health of workers. He was previously a member of the Advisory Committee for the Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation and currently sits on the National Stakeholder Advisory Panel for the Labour Market Information Council.
Daniel is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy and the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources at the University of Toronto. He received his PhD in Organizational Behaviour from Queen’s University, his MSc in Strategy from Queen’s University, and his HBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western University. Daniel’s research portfolio focuses on disability and work. For his doctoral research, he employed qualitative and quantitative methods to explore the career advancement and leadership of persons with disabilities.
Normand Boucher is sociologist and political scientist and is currently researcher at Centre for interdisciplinary research in rehabilitation and social integration (CIRRIS), adjunct professor in School of social work and criminology at Université Laval. Over the last twenty years, he has developed research projects in the field of disability policies focusing in particular on work and employment, support services, social policies and compensation of additional cost related to disability issues. During that period, he has been involved in many research teams active on national and international levels. These research activities allowed him to develop a strong and large expertise regarding disability and work policies and a good understanding of the programmes and compensation measures shaping the Canadian social security system.