There are four words that Lisa Kuiper loves to hear: I got the job.
“I’m pursuing my education in this field” is a close second for the employer developer with Career Services, particularly when it’s said by students with disabilities.
They’re words Kuiper has spent the last decade working hard to hear more often.
Turn back the clock 10 years, though, and Kuiper was just setting the stage for that to happen.
She wanted to create a place for employers to go where they could reach out to “diversity students” (students with disabilities, women, aboriginal and LGBTQ students). After some investigation, Kuiper realized this was a whole new frontier for a university career services department.
Still, her tenacity led her to the University of Tennessee, where that school’s career services department partnered with its students with disabilities office to create employment-related web content for diversity students and the employers looking to hire them.
Kuiper began in earnest to create a similar website, and soon the Bridge to Success site was launched at Brock in partnership with the University’s Students with Disabilities Office.
She also started to hold diversity recruitment events for employers and potential job candidates, where she learned that while there was no shortage of interest in diversity students finding work, they weren’t always sure how to do it.
Some students had no resume or cover letter, no sense of how to relay their disability to their employer and how to suggest accommodating them on the job.
Next came the implementation of DICE, the Disability Impact on Career and Employment assessment. It was developed by Denise Feltham of
Toronto’s DICE Assessment & Employment Counselling Services to determine how a disability can be accommodated in a person’s career or job of choice.
In the past two years, 35 people have participated in DICE with the exact results Kuiper imagined.
“What’s really nice for me is when I get emails from students saying ‘I got the job’… or ‘I’m pursuing education in human resources now because of the job I had,'” Kuiper said.
Looking back over the work she has done, she said she feels as though there has been much progress getting diversity students into the workforce and onto their desired career trajectories.
“I feel like we’re finally bridging that gap. There are amazing programs in place that are helping them move forward and be successful in their job search,” she noted.
“Some of the comments they make are ‘Finally, someone understands my needs.’ They feel confident talking about disabilities when doing a job search when they may not have before. It starts the conversation.”
That conversation turned to resounding applause last month when Kuiper received the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers Excellence in Innovation Award – Diversity for her work with students and, in particular, with Bridges to Success.
The award recognizes diversity initiatives or programs targeted to engage diverse populations, best practices for outreach programs, developing a diverse candidate pool, or enhancing retention of a diverse population.
“It was a great surprise,” Kuiper said of her award.
She isn’t resting on any laurels, however. Her next project to help diversity students land their ideal job is the Abilities Connect Fund.
It’s a pilot program with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce that’s designed to make employers aware of the benefits of hiring, integrating and retaining people with disabilities, and help those they hire achieve their career goals.
To do that, the fund provides financial assistance to employers to create experiential learning employment opportunities for university students and recent graduates with disabilities.
It also helps to alleviate any financial barriers employers might face when accommodating employees with disabilities in the workplace.
Since winning the award, Kuiper has become a sounding board for career services staff at other universities hoping to promote inclusive and accessible employment.
Comments such as “Brock blows everyone out of the water” are appearing regularly in her inbox.
Kuiper is pragmatic about it all.
“It’s definitely something more institutions need to focus on,” she says. “It really helps with student retention. They stay because they are supported and because they are successful in what they’re doing.”