By guest contributor, Rizwan Abdul, Client Relations & Human Resources Manager at Career Edge Organization
The 2010 JOIN 7th Annual Conference was held on November 29 in Downtown Toronto. The theme for this year’s conference was “ACTION Makes It Happen” The annually held Fall conference organized by JOIN is the employer-to-employer event that taps into the vast economic potential of people with disabilities. This conference brings corporate, government, disability-owned businesses and the JOIN BLN (Business Leadership Network) affiliates together to create workplaces and marketplaces where people with disabilities are fully included as professionals, customers and entrepreneurs.
The major sponsors of this year’s conference were Scotiabank, Province of Ontario and CIBC. Interestingly, all three organizations hire actively from the Ability Edge program for recent graduates with disabilities. Career Edge Organization participated in the conference as a Business Leadership Network member of JOIN and was represented by Donna Smith, Vice President and Rizwan Abdul, Client Relations and Human Resources Manager.
The conference was a full-day event that included several keynote speeches and concurrently held workshops that covered various topics related to the socio-economic integration of persons with disabilities with an emphasis on employability. Notable speakers in the conference included Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community and Social Services, Sarabjit (Sabi) S. Marwah, Vice-Chairman and Chief Operating Officer, Scotiabank and Val Lougheed, Founder and President of Northern Lights Canada. Suhana Meharchand, Host of CBC News Today and Anchor of CBC Newsworld kept the participants entertained and focused in her role as the MC of the conference.
The overall message that came out of the conference was that employers cannot afford to overlook the huge under-utilized talent among persons with disabilities in Canada, especially when they are leaving no stone unturned to tap quality talent. The speakers challenged the employers to take risks to demystify the hiring process for persons with disabilities in order to reap benefits. Many employers gave examples of persons with disabilities hired by them that turned out to be the model employees in terms of retention, employee engagement and strong performance. Honourable David Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario reminded the audience about the huge challenges that we face as a society by emphasizing the alarming rate of unemployment for persons with disabilities that is around fifty percent.
From Career Edge Organization’s perspective, the conference provided a good networking and learning opportunity. We were not only able to connect and network with representatives of Host Organizations who currently partner with us but also with employers who might potentially become Host organizations by hiring interns from the three paid internship programs that we offer. In terms of learning, the workshops held on topics such as legislative developments and employer experiences with inclusion of persons with disabilities in their workplace helped us recalibrate our own strategies and messages in our mission to partner with more and more organizations to promote hiring of persons with disabilities.
The employer presentations also reinforced the strengths of the Ability Edge as a viable source of best practice hiring/success stories for recent graduates with disabilities. Ability Edge program talent pool allows employers to reach out to qualified candidates with post-secondary education who can fill strong business operations professional level jobs to compliment the many examples of administrative, entry level jobs discussed throughout the conference.