When and how do financial incentives work best to promote the hiring and retention of people with disabilities? Researchers to find answers

Federally funded research project to produce guidelines and resources for policy-makers, employment service providers, employers and people with disabilities on best use of financial incentives

June 27, 2019 (Toronto, Ont.)Wage subsidies and other financial supports are widely used by Canadian governments to encourage employers to hire people with disabilities. Yet, employers, disability advocates, service providers and people with disabilities hold strong and often polarized views about the merits of these incentives.

Some feel these types of incentives are essential for encouraging employers, especially small and mid-sized firms, to hire and retain people with disabilities. Others feel financial incentives take advantage of people with disabilities by giving employers access to cheap, subsidized labour.

A research project launched today is weighing into the fray. Funded by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the multi-partner project co-led by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) in Toronto and McMaster University in Hamilton is asking the question: When and how do financial incentives work best to promote the employment of people with disabilities?

Although government-funded financial incentives to encourage the employment of people with disabilities are quite common in developed countries, the research on this topic is surprisingly scarce, says IWH Senior Scientist Dr. Emile Tompa, who is co-lead on this project. We’re going to find out in what contexts financial incentives work well or do not work well, and why, with the ultimate goal of improving sustainable, paid work for people with disabilities.

Key partners in the project include Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), which administers the $40-million Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities, and the national employment service provider Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW). Employers are also among the partners, with Jazz Aviation and a Giant Tiger franchise having already signed on.

This partnership will directly benefit job-seekers with disabilities, as well as the community organizations serving them, the employers hiring them and the policy-makers developing programs to support them, says Dr. Rebecca Gewurtz, an associate professor in McMaster University’s School of Rehabilitation Sciences and co-lead on this project. We believe our research on financial incentives will help move stakeholders beyond their polarized opinions and inform incentive programs going forward.

The three-year project will map out who is doing what in the financial incentives (FIs) policy arena across Canada, conduct an international scan of good practices in the use of FIs, develop case studies that illustrate when FIs do and do not work, and produce guidelines and resources for stakeholders.

This project will result in practical, evidence-informed resources on how best to use financial incentives to hire, retain and promote people with disabilities in paid employment, says IWH Director of Research Operations Emma Irvin. And we will work hard to ensure these resources reach those who can use them to make a difference in the employment of people with disabilities. Irvin, who also leads the Institute’s Systematic Review Program, led a review of the evidence on the effectiveness of financial incentives and found very little research, thus pointing to the need for this study.

About McMaster University, School of Rehabilitation Science

McMaster University is a public research university in Hamilton, Ont., made up of six faculties and home to more than 70 research centres and institutes. The School of Rehabilitation Science, within the Faculty of Health Sciences, aims to provide exemplary educational programs for students in occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech-language pathology, rehabilitation science and health management, thus contributing to the advancement of health care in general and rehabilitation science in particular through excellence in collaborative research and service initiatives.

About the Institute for Work & Health

IWH is an independent, not-for-profit research organization that conducts and mobilizes research to support policy-makers, employers and workers in creating healthy, safe and inclusive work environments. The Institute provides practical and relevant findings and evidence-based products on the inter-relationships between work and health from worker, workplace and systems perspectives. iwh.on.ca

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