Tag Archives: Employment

Finding or creating meaningful vocational opportunities. Different people do things differently!

Dangerous Youth Or Undervalued Adult?

Screenshot 2016-02-22 09.40.01

A History of Violence by Segun Akinsanya

In this recent Toronto Life article, Segun Akinsanya tells his story. It’s distressing to read how his life unraveled, and how he ended up in prison.  It’s also inspiring to learn how he found a way out.  Here is an excerpt which describes the turning point:

I’d been attending anger management sessions as part of my sentence. One day, I was talking to my facilitator, who was giving us exercises for controlling our frustration. When he told me to count to 10, something bubbled up inside me and I just lost it. I thought, He doesn’t even know why I’m angry! He doesn’t know what led me here. At that moment, I realized that neither did I. I needed to sit down and think about what I had gone through. Many young men in jail had faced the same barriers as I did. If I figured out where I went wrong, maybe I could help myself and others like me.

For the next six months, I became obsessed with writing a manual based on my own experience—a book that would help kids avoid getting into trouble. I conducted written surveys, asking fellow inmates what happened to bring them to incarceration. I was looking for common threads. And I found them: peer pressure, single-parent households, racism, low incomes, getting shunted around the education system, precarious housing. We were all just living up to our own stereotypes. I wanted to break the cycle.

I made a decision: as soon as I got out, I would look into launching programs for marginalized kids.

When Segun finally was released from prison, it was very difficult for him.  (If you read some of the comments at the end of the Toronto Life article, you will learn about the prejudices he still has to deal with.)  Organizations like 360Kids gave him some initial support,  and he also was successful in getting grants to support the development of new programs.  This is very encouraging!

But is this sustainable? It’s one thing for governments and non-profits to support people like Segun.  The real challenge, though, is to shift attitudes and overcome prejudice.   If you were an employer, what would you say to Segun if he showed up at your door?


Enabling the Disabled

After returning from WW2, my father Alec started a magazine called Canadian Digest.  The August 1946 issue contains a condensed version of an article published in Canadian Business, entitled “Handicaps” Need Not Be Handicaps.”  The story describes how staff from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs persuade skeptical employers to hire injured vets – with great success. The strategy was to focus on valuable abilities, and then make necessary accommodations for any disabilities.  If a placement did not work out, the veteran was re-assessed, and a more suitable position was found.

Mark Wafer

Mark Wafer

I thought of this article again recently when I was watching a video of Steve Paikin interviewing Mark Wafer.  Enabling the Disabled. Mark owns several Tim Hortons franchises in Toronto, and has earned a reputation over the years for hiring disabled people, particularly those with an intellectual disability. He covers many of the points made in the article mentioned above.  For instance, it is not a matter of hiring folks because you feel sorry for them.  You take them on because you see certain skills and you believe they can become valuable members of the team.  Although the so-called disabilities need to be accommodated, they often turn out to be a significant benefit.  At one point, Mark says that he feels like he is hiring the “social fabric of the community.”   If developmentally disabled people are welcomed and included, they become a powerful community-building force.

In a way, employing people with developmental disability is the easy part.  The real challenge is overcoming the prejudices implicit in conventional hiring practices.  We need more employers like Mark!

Note: Mark himself has a severe hearing impairment.  He has learned some sign language, but he prefers not to use it because it is so limiting.  He has developed lip-reading skills, and is able to communicate effectively in most public settings.

The Healthy Torontonian

imgresThis recent article by Jo Snyder (Wellesley Institute) really got me thinking.

The Healthy Torontonian: Unanswered Questions on Public Perceptions of What Causes Poor Health in the GTA

Many of us have been brought up with the belief that good health is fundamentally a personal responsibility.  If we make good choices with diet, exercise and sleep habits, we are much less likely to get sick. However, the research cited in the article paints a different picture.  We learn that socioeconomic factors (e.g. income levels, working conditions, physical environment…) account for lfifty percent of health outcomes.  Large, growing segments of the population are suffering bad health as a result of factors that are beyond their control.

Conclusion: If we invested more time and money in community care, we would need to spend much less on health care.

Poverty Strategy: Who Sits Across The Table?

TO ProsperityThere has been an enthusiastic response to the recent launch of Toronto’s new poverty strategy.  Of particular interest is the fact that people living in poverty were invited to participate and help to shape the recommendations.  Here is a quote from a recent tweet by Alejandra Bravo of the Maytree Foundation:

At its foundation is the notion that every community member, including those living in poverty, should be able to shape processes that impact their lives.  To develop the strategy, the City of Toronto and United Way Toronto created an approach that recruited, trained and deployed community animators in the city-wide consultation process.

I am a big fan of person-centred or self-directed initiatives.  It makes alot of sense to include the affected folks right from the beginning and to work through the issues together.  This way, we are much more likely to get good outcomes.

More work is still needed in order to fill the seats on the other side of the table.  Why should employers and landlords pay any attention?  Could the strategy be improved if they were more directly involved?

Restoring Fair and Stable Employment Practices


In partnership with United Way Toronto, PEPSO recently published The Precarity Penalty: Employment Precarity’s Impact on Individuals, Families and Communities and What to do about It.  People are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet, even when working several jobs.  The researchers make the case that conventional employment statistics only tell part of the story.  Even when the economy “strengthens,” large segments of the workforce continue to struggle.

A team of researchers at York University have recently published a paper that explores employment precarity in a specific sector: Liminality in Ontario’s long-term care facilities: Private companions’ care work in the space ‘betwixt and between.  Government regulations and labour standards cover much of the work done in the Long Term Care sector, but there is a growing demand for paid “companions” – people hired by families to care for loved ones at risk of neglect.  In many cases, these arrangements work very well.  However, the researchers make the case that the employment situation of many (if not most) of the companions is precarious, and that the current system is simply not sustainable.

Reading these reports, I learned that “liminality” is no longer something we observe only at the edges of our society.  More and more people with professional training and a strong work ethic are being pushed down and exploited.  So the question arises:  How do we demonstrate to employers – institutional and private – the benefits of returning to fair and stable employment practices?

From Symptom to Reality

Groups like the Toronto Foundation are re-framing the way we think about charity.  Their annual Vital Signs Report  shifts the focus from symptoms (homelessness, poverty, etc.) to reality: let’s work together and get stuff done.  Presenters at Tuesday’s Philanthropitch event were asked state their case using the Report as a framework.  Two examples:

good foot delivery

  • Good Foot Delivery is a competitive successful business, with loyal customers. They use grants and donations to fund training and personal supports for the employees.  Turnover is low, and  the staff are active throughout the business district.  Good Foot is a big step forward from the sheltered workshops and piecework projects of the past,  “Developmental disability” has become a positive factor in city development.
  • Art Starts  “inspires and cultivates social change by bringing professional artists and Toronto residents together to create community-building art projects in all artistic disciplines.”  Projects take place in highly-stressed neighbourhoods.  Our city is well-equipped with first-responder personnel, and Art Starts is there for the follow-up work.  Trauma heals, and folks re-build.

Lots of good stuff happening!