Job training initiatives are an important gateway to work opportunities, especially for persons living with disabilities who face persistent barriers to employment and who remain an untapped segment of the labour market. As technological advances potentially lead to a major change in the nature and availability of work, training programs for new skills required by employers become even more crucial.
Upskilling and reskilling programs must, however, be more responsive to the diverse needs of persons with disabilities. That’s according to a pair of studies conducted by Dr. Arif Jetha, scientist and associate scientific director at the Institute for Work & Health (IWH).
The study findings point to the need for skilling programs to: 1) balance training for technical and soft skills, 2) deliver skill building opportunities to those employed precariously, and 3) reduce resource barriers to participating in skilling programs faced by workers living with disabilities.
We’re heading into a period of rapid digital transformation of the economy, a time that may widen the digital divide between workers who have access to technological skills and resources and those who don’t, says Jetha.
Policy-makers are recognizing that job skills development is a priority to prepare workers living with disabilities for the future of work. Our research spotlights the specific strategies that can be taken when organizations are developing, or refining, job training programs so that they are more inclusive.
Two qualitative studies
The focus on job training was a key theme that emerged in the two qualitative studies published by Jetha’s team in 2023. In one of the studies, the team interviewed 22 young adults living with disabilities about their current labour market experiences, as well as their thoughts and perceptions about the future of work. That study has been published in the journal Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (doi:10.1108/EDI-06-2022-0154). The other study interviewed 40 policy-makers, disability employment service providers and future of work specialists about the implications of the digital transformation of the economy for persons with disabilities. It has been published in SSM-Qualitative Research in Health (doi:10.1016/j.ssmqr.2023.100293).
Findings from both studies highlight three key topics, described below.
Balancing training for technical and soft skills
Participants in both studies reported that the skills in demand in the future of work include both advanced technological skills and soft skills such as teamwork and creativity which cannot currently be automated. However, participants in the second study—i.e., policy-makers and service providers—reported that existing job skills training programs designed for people living with disabilities are too focused on preparing workers for low-skilled and entry-level jobs with limited prospects. Across both studies, participants agreed on the need for meaningful opportunities, facilitated by educational institutions or community-based training programs, to hone both soft and technological skills in early work experiences to obtain jobs with greater growth opportunities.
Delivering skill building opportunities to those in precarious work
Participants in both studies voiced concern about the reduced availability of full-time and stable jobs in the labour market (partly due to the adoption of technologies and automation in the workplace). Although some participants living with disabilities in the first study described choosing jobs with part-time hours or shorter-term contracts for the flexibility to manage their health, they also noted that upskilling opportunities, such as access to training, are scarcer in precarious jobs. Such workers may feel they don’t advance as quickly in their careers as their peers in more secure jobs or as able to gain the skills required to adapt to a changing working world.
Participants spoke of a need for employers and policy-makers to consider providing career development opportunities to workers with disabilities across a greater range of work arrangements, says Jetha.
Reducing resource barriers to job skills development
Participants in both studies were concerned about the financial barriers to digital tools needed to take part in job skills training programs, which are increasingly being delivered online. Employment service providers in the second study highlighted the importance of addressing financial or resources barriers, which may include subsidizing fees for job training programs and covering the costs of digital tools (e.g., tablets and high-speed internet).
To ensure that skilling programs are accessible,
policy-makers and employment service providers need to review the ways in which job skills training programs are designed and delivered. They need to consult and engage with persons living with disabilities to make sure that barriers to participation are removed, says Jetha.
Upskilling and skilling programs need to be designed to help persons with disabilities access in-demand jobs and in fields that have good long-term prospects.