The Niagara Training and Adjustment Board (NTAB) under its new moniker Niagara Workforce Planning Board, has released a report on April 6, 2009, to tell the world that while we are not suffering a 'labour shortage' per se, we are suffering a shortage of skilled workers. When Trudy Parsons was asked about what was referred to as 'skilled workers', she implied health care, administration, professional services, technical services, management in the social services, as well as specialized manufacturing sectors.
The general manufacturing sector has taken a major dump here in Niagara and there isn't an economist alive that believes that Niagara will once again return to the boomtown it once was with the auto rich sector, spreading its wealth into sub-sectors and spin-offs, which was something we relied upon probably since the 1950's. The service sector and knowledge-based economy is growing by leaps and bounds, which means people in professional occupations of all types, health care, administration, as well as IT/multi-media skills will likely be the 'want' of the future.
This study which was done as one of seven pilot studies in Ontario and funded through the Ministry of Community & Social Services, appears to be comprehensive, except one thing: there are too many glaring ommissions in this study that even if fully implemented, a large number of skilled people will still be shoved to the sidelines. Not a word was mentioned about persons with disabilities ... oh, I forgot, none of these people have any skills. Sheltered workshops, anybody? How about Niagara's addiction to cars, where it is almost impossible to get any kind of decent job without a driver's license and personal access to a car? Oh, non-drivers are probably rejects anyways, and they certainly don't have any skills. When statistics show that 93% of those who are not working in Niagara rely exclusively on public transit (another joke ... as it exists sparsely and too far between), none of these people are considered 'skilled' either.
Perhaps the researchers asked the wrong questions like they usually do. They should attempt to get a picture of who the unemployed are ... both newly unemployed, as well as those who have had major barriers to working for years. One might be surprised that many members of this group are indeed highly educated, highly motivated and certainly not slackers, yet they are pushed on the welfare rolls for very long periods of time to rot until some rare employer might peek from behind the rocks they hide behind to discover that yes, non-drivers can offer significant skills to an employer, as well, so can many persons with disabilities ... and no, many are not interested in minimum wage jobs, as why would they have bothered to go to school beyond high school?
Right now, it is the skilled trades that are being dumped ... not because they are not needed, but there needs to be a shift so their futures may indeed still use these skills, but in a different way. But when I speak to people with disabilities who may be well-educated, many of them spend long spells of time being unemployed or underemployed, while employers are allegedly looking for "skilled workers". Either the employers are lying about what they are looking for, or they are not looking hard enough. In my view, employers attach way too many criteria to the jobs they have that most people with disabilities, even those with the skills they are asking for, are scared away because they are not welcomed. Over 55% of persons with disabilities are non-drivers for various reasons; many others simply cannot afford to drive although they do have a license. Computer workstations, programs and telephone systems are set up for the able-bodied, not those who see things, hear things and communicate differently.
I hate to be a sour grapes type, but there is a website that just started for Niagara called NiagaraShares.Com, which is supposed to link people with disabilities to various services. The vast majority of people who are receiving ODSP receive benefits for 'invisible' disabilities, such as mental health issues (36%), developmental disabilities (27%) and learning disabilities (15%) - yet the kinds of disabilities discussed on this forum are strictly physical. That is fine, but people with physical disabilities are not the only ones that have severe limitations on their lives and in fact, many of them are not forced into poverty for various reasons. I perused this site out of curiosity a few weeks ago to see if anybody had a "story" to tell that showed that poverty disables people way more than the disability itself. Even the services suggested for persons with disabilities all cost money, way more than a person on ODSP can afford ...
... so what is a person living with a disability and poverty supposed to do? At this time, they are living at the bottom of the barrel. They are forced to go to food banks and charities for help. I stated in a previous post that those that turn up at the door of registered charities are not dealt with as "equals" and those serving them tend to believe that the folks at their doors cannot do the same work that they are paid to do. This is why many folks like this --- educated, ambitious, and at least partially empowered -- do not go to charities or use agencies, unless the agency is set up to meet their needs.
I will not go to subsidized housing because this will not get me out of poverty. Those going to this type of housing lose most of the money on the shelter portion of their benefit and as a result, their incomes fall even further away from the poverty line. If they work, their income is clawed back by more than 80%, making it not worthwhile to make the trek to independence. I will not go to food banks because they will not get me out of poverty. They will provide their second and third hand goods for which you are expected to be grateful, as you are further scrutinized for your income and what other services you are using ... you can't use too many services, lest they find you to be "abusing" the system.
To me, there should be no difference in the services given to rich or poor. Legal Aid is not what it is cracked up to be, as well - many very poor are forced to turn to shysters who are not licensed, insured or educated to deal with their legal matters. Licensees need to be accessible to everybody; payment based on a sliding scale while the licensee can still make a reasonable living. Food is purchased in grocery stores by those with money; food is taken from food banks and churches by the poor ... is that right? The quality control is in place in the grocery stores, but is not available in the food bank ... are the poor not entitled to quality control and equal access to quality goods?
Transportation is another one. The poor cannot afford newer vehicles in good repair that are fuel efficient. Wealthy people can. If the poor cannot afford to drive at all, they are relegated to the end of the line when jobs are concerned ... it doesn't matter their education, skills and workplace history. When using taxis, wealthy people can pay regular licensed taxis that are properly insured. Lower income use the "scab cabs" that do not necessarily get driven by licenced and insured drivers, which can result in trouble if there should be an accident. There are stories as well of people who were sexually assaulted in such cabs. It is okay for the poor to be put at unnecessary risk, but not people with money.
Jobs should be given to people who have the skills to do them - period. Employers whining about not finding skilled workers need to look beyond their noses and pretend requirements and ensure that non-drivers, as well as other people who read, communicate and move around differently are given an equal shot at the position ... and in my view, if an employer chooses not to, perhaps those folks on disability seeking employment should receive a large top-up to their benefits, all paid for by employers that choose not to hire them ... so at least they can comfortably live until an enlightened employer does come along.
What about training? More opportunities for access to higher education need to be made for persons with disabilities of all ages. I am sorry, but places like BUILT Network and a cashier/ janitorial course is not good enough, if somebody is not satisfied to remain below poverty. Sadly when you ask these government funded agencies how many people they REALLY place, nobody wants to tell you the truth and among those placed, nobody wants to admit that the majority of placements are only short-term, low-paid and/or seasonal. Are your bills only short-term obligations, only required to be paid in certain seasons ...?
The report was an interesting read; nevertheless, I feel it is so full of holes, there is enough to make Swiss Cheese out of it. Until the day that people with disabilities get real opportunities and stop getting subject to stereotypes, and employers start to scrutinize their requirements more deeply to ensure they are not leaving people out by simply outlining job duties that block a lot of people from even considering ... there will always be a skills shortage.
I think if there were suitable opportunities for many people on ODSP, they would work and choose not to collect ... but if this continued discrimination is an ongoing factor, while people who don't need many of these jobs, or worse yet, people less qualified than many of the disabled prospects get hired ... the government might as well raise ODSP rates by 150 to 200% to at least allow people to eat AND keep a roof over their heads in the same month.