Employment & Education

What We Heard

People receiving Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program people want good jobs and want to contribute to their communities, but the barriers they articulated are substantial and maddening. People said they felt trapped and stuck in their situation with “no clear path out.”

People receiving ODSP who have the potential to work are often fearful of the unknown, as they may be fine now but may not be in the future. Work, therefore, is a big risk. Clawbacks were identified as a huge barrier, often leaving people worse off, penalized for working (more about this in the video “Changes”). Others talk about the fear that if too much income is earned one month they will be cut off the following month, leaving them completely destitute. The “Linda Chamberlain Rule” was also referenced many times. Regardless of these fears, people find work to be rewarding, and would like to be working in some way as much as possible.

When social assistance offers training, even successful completion doesn’t provide the proper credentials people need. People spoke about their training programs not being recognized or accepted by employers as legitimate, so many do not get the kinds of jobs they had trained for. There appears to be a mismatch between the stated needs of people and the training available.

Immigrants for example often felt programs were below their capacities: that they did not need to learn computer basics or resume writing but help in finding employment in their fields in a new country.

People want access to higher education, especially those with physical challenges who need to work with their minds more than their bodies. Interactions involving OSAP and social assistance often restrict this opportunity to learn and grow and find pathways out of poverty. Many talk about the fear of taking loans and building a debt load when it is uncertain if a job exists at the end of program.

People are often told to take any job – the system is geared toward acceptance of the first job offered instead of supporting people to achieve sustainable employment that lifts their living standards. Jobs require higher education than is possible through short-term training programs offered through OW. Many people report “cycling” in and out of employment and education programs that do not lead to jobs, and leave them with rising debt loads as a reward for taking the risk.

Questions For Discussion

1. What are best practices in regards to training and employment? How can they be expanded across the province?
2. What are downsides and upsides to the “take any job” approach that we should consider? How can we design employment supports that provide pathways out of poverty.
3. What would it take to create “clear paths” that help people into good jobs?
4. What could be the role of social enterprise and local economic development as bridges to employment?
5. How do we match training and employment to individual needs and to available jobs? Where are good examples that we can draw upon?