Volunteerism isn’t a Career!

I put a knee jerk reaction statement on my Facebook status the other day following a week of frustration.  I have been trying to find some paid employment in the Kelowna area so far to no avail.  I find this a baffling since I am constantly getting calls from individuals for advice and offers to join committees for a variety of community groups.  This is all very flattering however volunteer positions don’t pay the bills.

This all seems to go back to my appearance at a provincial workshop held here in Kelowna last February.  It was billed as the Governments Disability White Paper Consultation process.  The purpose was to receive community input on how to make BC a more inclusive and productive province for persons with disabilities.  There were more service providers there than persons with disabilities and it was very apparent that these service providers were more interested in receiving information on how they could improve their job knowledge than building a more inclusive community.  After all if to many of us get jobs and become independent they could be out of work.

This consultation process is nothing new.  I facilitated a number of these same types of community consultation myself when I worked for the government back in the 90’s.  What was really disappointing was that it was like a huge deja vu and nothing new was being said.  I made some comments to that effect and did a review of what has happened in the last twenty-five years when it comes to inclusion.  I made my own plea not re-invent the wheel and shared some insights gleaned over the years.

At the conclusion of the “consultation” I had numerous individuals approach me to question me on insight and history.  In fact two were staff people from Maximus Employment, the business holding the labour market agreement to assist persons with disabilities find employment.  They wanted information on how best to do their job and I was more than happy to supply some positive input.  I have a background as a job coach and spend many years providing training sessions for employment counsellors and job coaches on Vancouver Island.  I know a bit about this business.

They both gave me business cards and I followed up with both of them.  After all as I started off saying I am looking for employment opportunities.  Unfortunately neither of them got back to me and I continued with my job hunting.  So flash forward and three months of job searching all I am receiving is requests to sit on volunteer boards.  I hear a lot about how valuable my knowledge and background is but everybody wants it for free.  Now this isn’t new!  I have discovered over the years that many people think they are giving someone with a disability (not just me) a break by offering them a volunteer position.  Now don’t get me wrong, there is a place for volunteerism and it does help to build a network.  But at the same time it doesn’t pay the bills and it devalues the information.

So when I put out my plea on Facebook to see if anyone in my network know of any potential employment opportunities here in Kelowna I did so having already exhausted the current avenues available to me.  When I received word from the friend of a friend who had talked to another friend I thought great and followed up on it.  This support was made with good intentions and I am appreciative of that.  For that reason I followed through on the suggested path and called the individual that had been suggested.  I discovered that person couldn’t talk to me until I had come to their office and registered.  Turns out I was being referred to Maximus Employment Services to meet with a job coach who was the specialist in assisting persons with disabilities in finding employment.  So today off I went to register at the Work BC office.  This is the same office I had talked with last November and the same office where the staff were pumping me for information at the community consultation meeting.

If this is what the government considers a user friendly province for people with disabilities then god help us.  If anyone with a visual impairment presented at this office for assistance in finding employment good luck to them.  There was absolutely no sign of alternative format for someone that was blind.  The same is true of any form of apparent accommodation being available for the hearing impaired.  I am a firm believer in establishing a welcoming environment as a way to show you are more than talking the talk.  I feel even stronger about that welcoming environment when a private business is receiving tax payer dollars to provide a service for persons with disabilities.

The gentleman who I was to talk with was unavailable however if I would register than I could use their Resource Room.  My home office has better technology than their Resource room.  I spoke with a very pleasant young lady (staff person) in the Resource Room who offered me the support of a job coach.

My most recent attempt at a job here in Kelowna was stymied due to lack of physical access.  The business office where the job would have been housed was up a flight of stairs so I asked this young lady how a potential employer could access support in adding some equipment to make their workplace accessible.  A stair glide would have solved the access problem but the business could not afford to supply one themselves.  There use to be federal programs to assist with physical accessibility however this young lady did not appear to be aware of any such program.  The light had already gone on that there was nothing this place was going to be able to do for me.  There is some value to this service for someone hoping to enter the work force however there was nothing there for someone transitioning from one city to another with thirty years of work experience.

I appreciate the social program nature of this service however that approach doesn’t fit the needs for those individual that have already established themselves in the labour force.  I’m looking for meaningful work that allows for my independence as well as my ability to self determine.  Too many of these social programs that are aimed at assisting marginalized community members view people with disabilities as a product.  That is why they receive the contracts.

I want employment opportunities that recognize the skills, knowledge and abilities I have developed over the years.  I don’t need a workshop on how to write a resume and I refuse to be a product for a tax payer paid for program.  I will keep looking and once I find something I will go back to do some volunteer work somewhere.  Until I have some paid employment I will limit the availability of my knowledge.  I have worked to hard to give it all away!

Just one man’s opinion.


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