Access to Success: A Guide for Employers

Recruitment of Students with Disabilities

By Miguel Aguayo, M.S.W., Diversity Recruiter, CIBC

College student and recent alumni represent the future because their training consists of the most recent development in any particular field. High performance companies recognize this fact and design recruitment strategies and programs that help them tap into this valuable talent pool. Large organizations, for example, have dedicated teams that engage in campus and graduate recruitment activities to keep the organization in a constant state of talent revitalization. This team is quite successful in generating a large pool of job applicants from colleges and universities for summer jobs, co-op placement, or direct entry into the workforce. Despite having an efficient campus strategy, my experience is that the conventional campus recruitment strategies are not easily applied when recruiting students with disabilities.

Traditional campus recruitment often involves registering an exhibit booth on the designated ‘career day’. This is successful in bringing the employer and a prospective job candidate together because it is convenient for the student. However, campus career days are not effective when trying to engage in a focused recruitment of a single segment of the population. This is because recruiters have no control over who approaches the booth. The population of students with disabilities ranges from visible to invisible, from mild to profound, from physical to sensorial, to medical to cognitive. Recruiters cannot always identify a person with a disability unless they are recognized because of mobility aids (e.g., wheelchair, white cane, etc.) or choose to self-identify and disclose the existence of a disability. This means that much time can be spent speaking with individuals who do not have disabilities and participation in these types of career fairs tends to yield low outcomes for recruiters trying to reach out to students with disabilities.

Focused recruitment campaigns can target candidates from a specific subsection of the student body because they target a program. The employer works with the campus career services office to hold information sessions that attract prospective job seekers from a specific academic program, such as MBA students. This approach is different as the recruiter can develop a communication strategy to draw in a motivated pool of candidates. This leads to success that can be measured in the number of resumés collected and the number of students interviewed, and, ultimately, hired.

The focused campaign approach, from my experience, is hard to execute when trying to recruit students with disabilities. The major difficulty in planning a targeted campaign is that this is an attempt to target a characteristic rather than an academic program. The administrators of any academic program (i.e., bachelor of business administration) are not allowed to share which and how many students with disabilities are enrolled — that is, if they know at all. At best, program administrators can provide a space and a generalized announcement. This gives recruiters a low level of access and little feedback to determine if this approach will be successful, which places the session at risk that few or no students will come.

Targeting the Disability Services Office seems like a logical access point as students with disabilities register at the centres. They also have capability to reach out to this group. However, that is easier said than done. This is because the disabilities services’ mandate is to provide access to the academic facilities and employees in these centres tend not to have the capacity to engage in career counselling. When a recruiter makes contact with the intention of offering employment opportunites to students with disabilities, they are, with a few exceptions, referred to the career services office. Once placed at the career services door, recruiters find themselves back to the starting point, which is a limited ability to reach out to a specific sub-group of their student body.

Despite the challenges that are described above, there are a few recruitment strategies I’ve found that offer success in attracting students with disabilities. They include making myself available for events that are initiated by the school (college or university) rather than attempting to stage something unique; drafting articles for the career services newsletters that discuss issues related to disclosure, the recruitment process, how employers assess for skills/attributes, etc.; and, finally, relying on the e-mail notification of available job opportunities that is forwarded to students with disabilities by the disability services and through special programs, such as the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS). This combination of approaches tends to get the message out more effectively than any single approach I’ve encountered and it works because it is compatible with campus life, which is very fast-paced and constantly evolving in terms of the programs, calendars, and extracurricular activities.