By: Razan Samara
Statistics Canada data suggests that persons with disabilities, Indigenous and racialized identities are vastly underrepresented in workforces in Canada. To help marginalized students and alumni seek employment, the Student Success Centre launched the Career Access Program for Students, a suite of services offered in collaboration with the Student Accessibility Centre and Maccess.
CAPS focuses on skill building and career development through career advising, strategic goal setting and personal branding. Students also work on creating an employment action plan that is customized to meet their needs.
The program is for students and alumni that identify as persons with disabilities, First Nations, Metis and Inuit persons, members of racialized communities, First Generation students and LGBTQA2S+ students.
Students and alumni can book one-on-one appointments through OSCARPlus, participate through events, or utilize online resources to learn about financial accommodations for students with disabilities, wellness support services, a transit accessibility initiative and campaigns to promote diverse practices.
The SSC also introduced a new position.
Katherine Hesson-Bolton started her position as the diversity employment coordinator in July 2018.
Her initial goals were finding her way around campus alongside first-year students, reading reports, developing a network with faculties, students, campus services and partners and identifying service gaps and needs.
Hesson-Bolton’s role places her in a unique position as a connecting link between McMaster and the greater community.
She regularly meets with employers in hopes of coming away with jobs and opportunities for students while also having conversations around diversity hiring and removing barriers.
She then is able to provide employers with on-campus and external resources, such as ones coming from Pride at Work Canada, to help them address diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
“It’s really about having a conversation with the employer to hear what their needs are, what McMaster students’ needs are, and then finding that fit… So it’s really about relationship building on both sides,” said Hesson-Bolton.
“It also comes back to reaching back to those campus partners, whether it’s student accessibility services or Indigenous services,” said Hesson-Bolton. “I also work a lot with and involve students on campus because it’s really important to get students’ perspective and their feedback.”
Hesson-Bolton also strategizes with employees on branding. Some employers have identified that they want to focus on inclusion, but do not know how to identify and address the needs of new employees.
“You may have employers who will want to hire students with disabilities. And the question back is ‘have you thought about how your workplace is set up? What are your policies, procedures, your staff education, so that the new employee feels included?’,” said Hesson-Bolton.
Hesson-Bolton starts the conversation by discussing meeting the needs of new hires, whether that be identifying the accommodations that would allow persons with disabilities to work, establishing prayer spaces or recognizing that always having social events in establishments that serve alcohol may exclude some individuals.
Hesson-Bolton also has important conversations with students and alumni around disclosure in the workplace and accommodation plans.
She also provides a space for students to talk about their frustrations, experiences with discrimination, while also connecting them to mentors and peers with similar lived experience.
There is a strong need for university services to support students entering the workforce and address the barriers to diversity and inclusion. The CAPS program and the role of the diversity employment coordinator are just getting started.