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How Organizations Can Identify Employment Barriers

Employment barriers unfairly hold people back who have a lot to offer. When organizations identify where they exist, they take a step toward a more diverse and talented workforce.

Canada’s unemployment rate has remained persistently low as of recent, creating a high demand for a talented workforce. Still, there are young Canadians who want meaningful work but instead find employment barriers holding them back.

An employment barrier is anything that can make getting or keeping a job harder for some people but not others.

Some common employment barriers are age, access to transportation, employer bias, lack of experience, education levels, lack of childcare, perceived language proficiency and disabilities that can include physical, developmental, intellectual and mental, among others. These barriers may have nothing to do with an applicant’s actual ability.

For example, do they truly need a vehicle if public transit can get them to work on time as needed? For those with limited access to transit, is accommodation for scheduling possible?

Employment barriers are plentiful and widespread. Identifying (and then removing) them takes intention and active effort. Some steps to get there:

  1. Formally embrace diversity, equity and inclusion to tackle outdated and unfair systems. This requires a change in policies and practices that may have historically disqualified candidates from marginalized groups who could be an asset.

  2. Balance education and experience requirements with actual skills. Sure, if an applicant has done the job before, odds are they can do it again. However, many barriers can limit access to education and experience – but not skill – such as age, socio-economic status or even lack of access to childcare. While experience is a predictor of success, it’s not the only one.

  3. Audit the environment. Ensure the physical space is accessible for everyone. Physical barriers can include steps that prohibit a person with disabilities from navigating, narrow hallways without adequate room for wheelchairs, inaccessible bathrooms, poor lighting for the visually impaired and more.

  4. Adjust attitudes. Employment barriers may be rooted in attitudinal barriers – those that assume people who are different are unable to do a job. Examples of attitudinal barriers include thinking someone with English as a second language struggles to converse or a belief that someone with a chronic health condition will require a lot of time off work.

  5. Ask for help. Because employment barriers do not necessarily affect everyone, even the best intentions can have blind spots. Creating feedback opportunities to identify barriers can put a spotlight on what may be otherwise overlooked.

Identifying barriers can be a matter of law. The Ontario Human Rights Commission notes “systems should be designed so they do not create physical, attitudinal or systemic barriers” – including employment barriers.

Once identified, the Commission sets out how to develop plans for removal:

  • Set specific, measurable goals for removing identified barriers.

  • Create clear timelines for achieving these goals.

  • Allocate adequate resources to meet these goals.

  • Ensure accountability and responsibility for meeting goals.

  • Include a mechanism for regularly reviewing and evaluating progress towards the identified goals.

Employment barriers unfairly hold people back who have a lot to offer. When organizations identify where they exist, they take a step toward a more diverse and talented workforce.


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