Youth Success Strategy Project
The Canadian Youth Success Strategy (YSS) project has the potential to influence policy. The YSS project has demonstrated that where there is intentional collaboration between education providers, employment service providers, and employers, youth with developmental disabilities have greater access to skill development and opportunities necessary for successful employment.
Research has uncovered how families and educators continue to have a perception of “unemployability” for students who have developmental and/or intellectual disabilities. This perception continues to foster lower expectations from families and educators, creating barriers to accessing critical supports and opportunities needed to prepare the students for a future that includes paid employment. The global findings from the project are applicable for family and educators’ networks anywhere and could impact how key stakeholders perceive the benefits of volunteering while still in school, part-time employment, paid internships, co-op opportunities in the community, all foundational to building employability skills.
Lastly, ODEN strongly believes that the Canadian YSS project promotes the “full development of human potential and a sense of dignity and self-worth, and the strengthening of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and human diversity as well as enabling persons with disabilities to participate effectively in society” as noted in Article 24 of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disability. The Canadian YSS project promotes the goal of preparing students who have a disability for employment as part of inclusive education, empowering families, educators, and local employment service providers and businesses to build an inclusive workplace.
The Origins of ODEN’s Youth Success Strategy
With insight into the importance of early exposure to work for youth who have a developmental disability, in 2021 with support from the Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services (MCCSS) ODEN researched and created the Youth Success Strategy for Developmental Services. Originally, the Youth Success Strategy (YSS) involved working with MCCSS and other partners and stakeholders to explore various strategies that enhance access to, and success in, employment for youth who have a developmental disability; built sector specific career pathways and job pipelines; and increased capacity and awareness in family and educational networks to promote, encourage and support youth who have a disability to pursue employment as the GOLD standard for social inclusion.
Between 2021 and 2022, the YSS project had four outcome pillars: a) Increased awareness and capacity in family and educational networks; b) Support of Knowledge Transfer -Youth Employment; c) Advocacy for Best Practices and d) Nurturing and Supporting Career Pathways. In this 12-month period, ODEN created two workshops to raise awareness and empower families and educators to the importance of early exposure to work and developing employability skills. ODEN’s workshops “Employment: The GOLD Standard For Inclusion” and “Raising Expectations” delivered to over 700 attendees across Canada. During this time, ODEN facilitated the creation of a jobPath Community of Practice to bring agencies and educators together to support and learn from one another by creating resources and sharing promising practices. Additionally, ODEN played a strong advocacy role in bringing Project SEARCH to Ontario, supporting the Ministry of Education with their goal of 22 school boards adopting the model by September 2023. And lastly, ODEN supported the creation of partnerships with service agencies, education providers and private sector to facilitate the start of career pathways -from school into workplaces.
Taking the YSS National
Understanding that the global findings from the Youth Success Strategy in Ontario are applicable for family and educators’ networks across Canada, ODEN applied and successfully received funding from the Canadian Association for Supported Employment (CASE) Innovation Lab. In 2022-2023, ODEN proposed to expand the YSS to three pilot communities in British Columbia, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. By piloting the project in three communities, ODEN has been testing the hypothesis that family networks can advocate effectively, at a local level, the importance of higher expectations for students who have a disability and that when tools and resources are provided, employment service providers and businesses in their community can prepare and engage students who have a disability as a talent pipeline. To date, across Canada, 6 organizations have been trained to deliver ODEN’s family workshop and 9 agencies have been trained to use and deliver jobPath, an Employment Discovery curriculum. The project has developed a number of tools and resources including an online module for anyone wanting to learn how to deliver ODEN’s Family Workshop: Employment: The GOLD Standard for Inclusion.
Through the project, 81 employers have been directly engaged in the CASE IL Canadian YSS Project, 57 job seekers have exposed and have learned about tools to increase their employability skills tools in this project such as jobPath and 51 employment service providers have been engaged in the project. The secondary engagement of this project has been just as impressive with over 50,000 impressions in social media during the awareness campaign to choose the pilot regions, over 700 contacts reached via newsletters and emails and over 2,600 people reached via conference presentations and podcasts.
Next Chapter for the YSS Project
Through two years of work, the YSS team and collaborators have identified more areas for impact. In 2023-2024, more resources will be created to address a) how intersectional identities can exacerbate barriers to employment for young people who have developmental disabilities, b) unique challenges that remote and rural communities face in providing employment services for youth who have a developmental and/or intellectual disability; and c) opportunities for employment within social enterprises or entrepreneurship. In addition, ODEN will be partnering with the YMCA GTA to run a series of Family Workshops to mark National Youth Week (May 1-7) and continue to raise awareness. And lastly, more businesses will be made aware of the value proposition of creating talent pipelines by hiring young people who have developmental and/or intellectual disabilities for co-op, summer and part-time job. These businesses will have access to an online self-directed training module (DACT) that will help prepare employers to confidently hire and onboard youth who have a disability.