The Federal Internship Program for Canadians with Disabilities
Employers often speak in terms of the available workforce, worker shortages, and being understaffed. We often speak in terms of inclusion, accessibility, and equal opportunity. The two need not be mutually exclusive. Persons who self-identify as living with a disability often find that getting the opportunity is the first hurdle. When I talk about opportunity, I am speaking about sustainable employment, meaningful work, and a chance to obtain valuable work experience.
The Public Service of Canada (PSC) has made great strides in addressing the issue of opportunity within the Federal Internship Program for Canadians with Disabilities (FIPCD). The program is designed to provide equal access to persons who identify as having barriers to employment. The goal is to gain access to an untapped available workforce and provide a link between inclusion, accessibility, and jobs. In the simplest form, the FIPCD strives to create a pool of candidates who have little to no experience and provide them with a two-year learning opportunity with a federal department. A paid opportunity. The benefit to the employer is finding good workers training them and assessing their abilities, potential and fit.
The PSC contacted Performance Plus Rehabilitative Care Inc. (PPRC) and opened the conversation about identifying potential candidates. The PSC worked with PPRC in a collaborative approach in onboarding clients and identifying potential barriers to employment for the individuals and the federal departments involved. They wanted to ensure that the supports were available throughout the contract opportunity to ensure the success of the program.
In the FIPCD, candidates are provided with support to be able to participate in the assessment process. Candidates were interviewed and matched to opportunities within federal departments. One department that participated was the Privy Council Office (PCO). In speaking with Noël Dubois, Strategic Financial Advisor, Finance, Corporate Planning, and Administration, Privy Council Office, he explained that once the pool of candidates was identified, each department was consulted, and a plan was created to onboard and support the candidate. This plan included identifying potential barriers and identifying solutions to enable a successful work experience.
“The objective of the FIPCD is to provide a learning experience that helps the candidate develop skills and abilities for the future. We had to assess the role of telework and how to make the work meaningful. I see my role as providing an opportunity for growth and learning that will better prepare the candidate for future employment,” said Noël. “But it also allows us as the employer to train potential workers and assess their fit within the various departments.”
Noël worked with Ella Gray, a Rehabilitation Consultant from Performance Plus Rehabilitative Care Inc. (PPRC), to ensure the candidate was supported throughout the contract. PPRC is a vocational rehabilitation company that specializes in assisting persons who identify as living with a disability to reenter the workforce. PPRC works with employers to address the barriers and make the work opportunity a success.
Maria Sefcsik is a FIPCD candidate identified through PPRC who joined the PCO. She works remotely as an administrative assistant and has held the position for two years completing her internship. Maria self-identifies as a person with a disability and lives with vision loss that acts as a barrier to employment.
Through the collaborative efforts of the PCO and PPRC accommodations were identified to enable Maria to work from home. She utilizes text-to-speech software and a larger display screen to assist her with the work. Her role is to provide administrative support to the Finance Directorate which includes coordinating requests for information under the Access to Information Act (ATIA), scheduling meetings and coordinating training. Maria was required to learn the parameters of the ATIA legislation and review and track requests.
Noël stated, “Maria’s ability to review lengthy documents and her attention to detail enable the office to help ensure compliance with the ATIA. She has also had to learn multiple systems including Microsoft Planner and a document management platform, and she is comfortable sending reminders about due dates to keep us on track.”
Maria says, “I enjoy the work, and I wish it wouldn’t end, but I know I was given a great opportunity with PCO. It is the first time I have truly felt included and welcomed, the people here have been great. My hope is to use the skills that I have learned to find a permanent job. I have had great support from the team.”
I asked both Noël and Maria about the benefits of adopting an inclusive recruiting process.
Noël believes that the pandemic made his department reassess how they work. “Originally, we would have had someone working in Maria’s position come to the office, but we had to move to telework. It has been successful, and it has many benefits. Through the FIPCD we identified a qualified worker, we gained the perspective and experience that internships can bring and we had the opportunity to develop a valuable employee.”
Maria acknowledges the support she received through the application and interview processes was key to providing the opportunity. Once hired she received accommodation support from both the PCO and PPRC to enable her to work. She was quick to respond that remote work enabled her to participate in the workforce.
Maria informed us that after she completed the program, she used her employment experience to successfully obtain a full-time position and is currently working for a term duration within the Privy Council Office.
The FIPCD program allowed the employer to access an untapped talent pool. They can recruit inclusively, as well as train and assess performance and abilities within the internship program. The processes used to support the candidates provided inclusivie hiring and the accommodations allow for accessibility. Recruitment, support, accessibility, and accommodation, are integral to a truly inclusive opportunity.