Top-ranked strategies to support young persons with disabilities in the future of work

Key messages

  • Study participants were asked to identify the most important strategies to promote inclusive employment for persons with disabilities in the future of work.
  • The top strategies for six future of work challenges, described in the report, cut across workplace, community, and educational settings.
  • Common trends in the solutions included: taking a disability-inclusive lens in planning processes and developing upskilling and reskilling programs for persons with disabilities.

Published: June 2024

Social, technological, economic, environmental, and political trends have been changing the world of work at a rapid pace. Canadians have seen this with the COVID-19 pandemic, when many businesses rapidly shifted to remote and flexible work arrangements that largely remain in place today. We’re also starting to see this with the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) and its complex implications for different jobs in the labour market.

But as we think about the impact of the future of work, it’s crucial to consider that certain groups of workers may be disadvantaged. That’s why a recent project led by Arif Jetha, scientist and associate scientific director at the Institute for Work & Health (IWH), set out to gain an understanding of strategies that could be used to maximize inclusion for persons with disabilities in the future of work.

Historically, persons with disabilities have been left out of the labour market, says Jetha. The implications of widespread change in the future of work could be most significant for these individuals, who may also be at a high risk for exclusion.

The research team sought to investigate this problem through a three-year, multi-phase study which anticipated changes to the working world, examined the implications of those changes for the employment inclusion of persons living with a disability, and identified potential solutions that could be important to implement to mitigate challenges. The study focused specifically on young workers with disabilities at the early career phase, as disruptions to the labour market may have reverberations across their working lives.

As we consider how work may change, it's important to be proactive, says Jetha. We wanted to identify strategies that can be implemented now by employers, service providers and policy-makers to foster inclusion of persons with disabilities in the future.

In the first phase of the study, 125 participants with lived experience of a disability, employers, service providers and other subject matter experts were surveyed to identify their perceptions of future challenges.

Six key challenge areas in the future of work emerged from that survey that were specifically relevant to the employment inclusion of young people with disabilities: the digital transformation of the economy, AI in human resource decision-making, digital globalization, cultural tensions around workplace inclusivity, climate change, and external shocks that could increase the pace of change.

Participants were also asked about any strategy that might ensure young people with disabilities find and sustain employment in the decades ahead.

Read the results from phase one of this study:

In phase two of the study, close to 70 participants participated in another survey where they were asked to rank those strategies based on how likely each strategy would be able to support employment inclusion across each of the challenge areas.

The report presents in-depth discussions on the top-ranked strategies for each challenge area. The strategies described by participants point to the importance of building a system of inclusion that extends across workplace, community, and educational settings, says Jetha.

The challenge of advancing digital technologies

For example, the top-ranked solution to one future challenge, advancing digital technologies, was to enhance the accessibility and inclusivity of training programs for youth and young adults with disabilities. In the face of advancing technology, acquiring new technical skillsas well as soft skills that cannot be performed by machineswas seen as an important step to stay competitive as new employment opportunities emerge. But these skill-building programs also need to be accessible, participants noted, with flexible formats and accessible resources, so that persons with various disabilities can fully participate.

The next two top-ranked strategies included raising employer awareness about new accessibility challenges created by digital technologies and ensuring technology is affordable for all.

Cross-cutting strategies

The study also found several common themes emerging as cross-cutting strategies that address multiple challenges. One such common theme was using a disability-inclusive lens when planning for changes in the future work.

Where AI programs are used in human resources planning—for example, in autonomous resume screening programs—participants noted the importance of considering diversity, equity and inclusion during the design and implementation phase of these technologies to mitigate potential biases. And when developing climate emergency plans, participants suggested consulting persons with disabilities to ensure they are accessible—for example, to improve upon traditional cell phone alert systems, which may not work for those with vision or hearing impairments.

The practical insights presented in this report can be used by policy-makers, employers, employment service providers, and others as they develop approaches that advance disability inclusion employment policies and programs for young persons into the future, says Jetha. Notably, a lot of the solutions that participants felt were most important are relevant in our current labour market context. By implementing these strategies now, we can proactively create inclusive practices that are resilient to potential changes in the future of work.

How the study was done

For this study, the research team used a Delphi survey approach. Delphi surveys are a research method used to gather insights from diverse subject matter experts and establish consensus on solutions that address a topic of concern.

Participants recruited for this study included young people aged 18 or older with lived experience of a disability, as well as policy-makers, disability employment service providers, educators, clinicians and futurists.

Two online surveys were administered to participants in English or French. The first was administered in the winter of 2021; it asked participants to provide strategies for inclusive employment related to key future of work challenges. The second was administered in the summer of 2022, where participants were invited to watch short videos that summarized the findings from the first survey. They were then asked to rank strategies identified in the first round, from most to least important for promoting employment inclusion. A measure of agreement was then calculated to determine the level of consensus in the rankings among participants.

Read the full report here: