What's Wrong With Employment Inclusion? Part 2

Government funding for employment services for people with disabilities generally falls into two categories. Type one is best described as ‘Project Funding’ which is generally based in strategic procurement, requests for proposals (for which there is intense competition) and 1 – 3 year long contracts based on the policy directives of the day. Type two is best described as ‘Core Funding’ which is based in ongoing relationships with the same service provider organizations year after year. Competitions for funding, and annual proposals stating the goals, methodology and outcomes of the service are seldom required.

Both types of funding present significant benefits – and significant problems.

Although Project-based Funders can stimulate innovation, improvement and valuable ongoing service-assessment, they  typically develop their Requests For Proposals (RFP)s based on ‘retrospective’ labour market information and current or projected labour market shortages. Although this may appear to be a rational approach to addressing the labour market issues of occupational supply and demand, the strategy falls short of its goal. Investment in this approach fails to recognize and support the individual goals of  job-seekers with barriers to employment. Employment Service policy directives created far from the ‘implementation level’ commonly fall short of their intent – thus the continued poor statistics on labour market participation for marginalized groups such as people with disabilities and Aboriginal People. Project Funding RFPs can also be overly prescriptive and lack insight as to the level of support people require to succeed. These contracts are also typically ‘annualized’ and rely on all outcomes including demonstration of employment sustainability (for people with barriers to job retention) to effectively be achieved within a 12 month period; an unrealistic goal which forces the service provider to represent the achievement of outcomes which have not come to pass. 

Core Funders can generate a different set of difficulties within the services they fund. While allowing services to operate sustainably without competing for contracts has been a welcome relief in an increasingly competitive climate – this protocol has also led to a degree of stagnation in the field of employment inclusion for people with Intellectual Disabilities. Compounding this issue is the general expectation of funders that organizations continually do ‘more with less.’ In the face of ongoing resource reductions, tt can be difficult for organizations to engage in continuous improvement, ongoing evaluation, branding, professional development and service ‘renovation’ on top of the mandated activities they must address.

It should be noted that there are many good reasons to avoid the implementation of a competition-based system in Core Funded services, including the requirement for longer term interventions, and the important relationships between people accessing services and those who support them. However, it remains essential, for services to examine,  declare and review their values, activities, service rationale and expected outcomes. How is it otherwise possible for them to measure their success and  improve and develop services which generate better outcomes and better lives for the people they serve?

The issues identified with both types of funders have impacted on the evolution of employment inclusion services and speak to the reasons why the employment participation rates of people with disabilities have not changed remarkably in the last decade or more. In many cases, we’re working with the first employment facilitation models our organizations developed at the start of the Supported Employment movement over 25 years ago. Sometimes it’s a close relative of the WCB Return to work model. Sometimes, there is no model or formalized service at all, just an advocate with positive intent and limited resources. So, where do we go from here?

Services which represent the best of both funding systems are a challenge to develop but would certainly generate better outcomes. Employment supports which are innovation and outcome-based but which facilitate employment inclusion and retention over a 3 – 5 year period are the ‘missing link’ in improved labour market participation for people with barriers. Organizations must be challenged  - and supported - to offer better services, rather than simply to meet the funding and contract criteria.

There is good reason to believe that the future of Employment Inclusion also lies in a Community of Practice; networks of service providers who share ideas and resources and who effectively communicate and advocate to the policy makers. This is the most probable path to significant improvement in the labour market participation of people with barriers to employment.

The time is right for Employment Inclusion – advocates, government and the business community agree. The Canadian labour market , more than ever, requires everyone’s contribution and the social Return on Investment is far too significant for us to overlook any longer. The development of services must be nurtured by policy makers and passionately pursued by service providers. We cannot continue to collectively perpetuate systemic barriers; together we possess the potential to be the solution.

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