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Need Employees? Talk to Someone with a Disability

Persons with disabilities are an untapped employment resource in B.C. Let’s hire them.

On September 24, I delivered a speech to an audience of almost 300 people who were mostly too busy researching potential jobs to notice. While this would usually be cause for alarm, in this case—at YVR’s first Open House and Inclusive Hiring Fair for Persons with Disabilities—I was thrilled to somewhat lose the crowd.

To be honest, it made me wonder why we haven’t done this sooner. As Co-Chair of the Presidents Group, which is an organization that’s committed to helping businesses better attract persons with disabilities, I constantly talk to influential leaders on ways we can reach one of the most under-represented employment groups in Canada. The answer, it appears, is very simple: invite them over.

And order lots of refreshments. There’s an untapped talent pool of over 600,000 people in British Columbia who identify as having a disability. These individuals have a vast range of skills and experiences, not to mention unique personalities and perspectives—a crucial asset for any business. In just 2025, B.C. employers will need to fill an estimated 1 million job openings. We could cut that down significantly by engaging this group. 

What’s more, studies show that persons with disabilities make great employees, with high retention, strong performance and low turnover. One reason why, I have learned, is they are grateful to have been given an opportunity to find a career path, to be independent and, for many, to have that first real job with responsibilities, successes and challenges. Many of us take that for granted, not realizing the inherent privilege we carry with us every day, finding negatives in what many would see as an ideal scenario.  

So why is the representation of persons with disabilities so low in many organizations? And note that Vancouver Airport Authority is not dodging this one; our figures from 2017 show that persons with disabilities make up less than the labour force average in our workforce (see page 134 in our annual report for more). This is a stat we are determined to change. There is no single answer, but I have observed some reoccurring issues: many people are unaware of what opportunities are out there, many organizations are unaware of this untapped talent pool and how to reach out to them and, unfortunately, we all have biases of some kind—whether conscious or not—which discourage applications in the first place.

We’re constantly working on this at YVR. We offer our employees unconscious bias training, making sure they recognize the signs that lead them to unintentionally avoid interacting with persons with disabilities, often out of a fear of offending (very Canadian). And we are always improving the airport, upgrading the terminal to make sure everyone is comfortable flying through YVR.

But what it’s really all about is living up to our commitment. As a not-for-profit, community-based organization, YVR has a responsibility to reflect our region. Everyone has a role to play in our community and it should thus be the same at our airport, which is only strengthened by every new perspective that contributes to its ongoing success. We are always trying to improve and I welcome any advice on what we could do better. In addition, I encourage all businesses to open their doors, talk with this valuable group of people and know that by doing this we are all building a better workforce for everyone.

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