A little courage and enthusiasm can take you a long way.

For Jennie, it led to her first full-time job in four years within a few days.

Jennie once worked as a teacher and as a project coordinator. But a few health issues left her in need of more flexible work arrangements to deal with a heavy schedule of medical appointments. She left full-time work and took on part-time training contracts and freelance writing and editing from home to manage her schedule.

But Jennie is more of an extrovert who needs to stay engaged with other people. With her health improved to the point where she felt she could return to a full-time job, she was ready for a change.

But where was she to start, after four years out of the workforce?

A web search led her to Performance Plus Rehabilitative Care (PPRC).

Getting her confidence back up

Founder Linda Simpson and the PPRC team work primarily under contract with the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), to help people with physical or developmental disabilities, as well as those who are coming off of any kind of disability leave, find gainful employment.

At PPRC, Jennie found the welcoming and supportive environment she needed to get ready for a return to full-time employment.

“They helped me update my resume so that it was appropriate for different work environments,” said Jennie. “But more importantly, working with the various staff helped me get my confidence level back up.”

PPRC is a founding member of Ottawa’s Employment Accessibility Resource Network (EARN). This United Way-led community initiative brings together employers and service providers with a goal of increasing opportunities for meaningful employment for people with disabilities. As part of her engagement with PPRC, Jennie consented to have her resume circulated among the various organizations that are part of EARN, in the hopes she would be a match with a job opening.

The courage to find opportunity

But rather than wait for the phone to ring, Jennie decided to take part in an EARN networking event.

At these events, jobseekers can network with various public and private sector employers interested in providing opportunities to persons with mental or physical disabilities. Landing a job on the spot isn’t really the intent, and Jennie wasn’t expecting to, but it kind of worked out that way.

Louise Reid-Schloen, Manager, Talent Attraction and Acquisition for Hydro Ottawa, was a featured speaker at the EARN event. Jennie spoke with Louise’s staff on-site and liked what she heard about opportunities with Hydro Ottawa’s Customer Service group. She submitted her resume that very afternoon. The next day, she got a call for an interview.

“Jennie was just the right person for the position we had,” said Louise. “During my presentation, she was so interested and engaged. The timing was great and she had the right aptitude for the opportunity.”

In October, Jennie began a six-month full-time contract, an invaluable experience with which to bolster her resume. Shortly after we spoke with her, Jennie’s contract was extended another seven months.

The right fit

Reintegrating into full-time work has proven to be far easier than Jennie had expected. This is due in no small part to the onboarding practices Hydro Ottawa uses with all its new hires. Full briefings with the hiring manager before her first day of work, online training resources, regular orientation sessions and plenty of “elbow training” with an experienced co-worker, have all served her well.

Jennie was just the right person for the position we had

Louise Reid-Schloen

For Jennie, finding the right fit with an employer and a workplace culture was crucial. Her advice? An EARN networking event is a good place to start.

“This is a great way to meet people who are making hiring decisions and get a sense of what it would be like to work in their organization,” Jennie said. “Organizations that are involved obviously believe in what EARN is doing and are strong advocates about creating opportunities for people.”

No risk, no reward

At Hydro Ottawa, diversity isn’t a buzzword, it’s a strategic priority, said Louise.The utility, like most large organizations, is already feeling the pressure of skilled labour shortages in various areas. It has responded with a series of initiatives to expand the diversity of its workforce. One area of focus is persons with disabilities. Only 43 per cent of people with disabilities in Ottawa participate in the labour market – compared with 70 per cent of the general population.

“Employers have to expand their lens, expand their thinking,” said Louise. “There is a richness of talent in places many often don’t think to look. EARN is a fantastic hub of matchmakers who will enthusiastically put you in touch with service providers like PPRC to find outstanding people for your team.”

“If you are sitting at home, but feel ready to work, you have to go for it,” said Jennie. “You have to take the risk, and organizations like PPRC and EARN can help. Don’t be content with doing less than you can.”