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Employment services experts fear a new funding model could leave some people behind

Performance Plus Rehabilitative Care is advocating for high-needs clients in the midst of big change

portrait of employment expert Linda Simpson

Recent provincial changes to the funding model for employment services is raising alarm bells for some Ottawa employment experts.

Performance Plus Rehabilitative Care (PPRC), a vocational rehabilitation organization that has until now worked primarily with people with disabilities, is currently navigating Ontario’s Employment Services Transformation, a new funding model mandated by the Government of Ontario. 

For the past 29 years PPRC reported directly to the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. Now, the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development is delivering their funding, which will be locally administered by a service system manager (SSM). PPRC’s SSMs will be Serco in Kingston-Pembroke and WCG Consulting in Ottawa.

Since starting the transition to the new system earlier this year, PPRC founder Linda Simpson and her team have kept the needs of their clients — both new, old, and on the way — at the forefront. 

She is confident their systems will succeed under the new model. “We spent years developing our systems and have created a very successful employability process,” said Simpson.

That depth of experience will come in handy. Under the new model, PPRC will be also serving people who are struggling to find employment due to other disadvantages, in addition to continuing to serve people with disabilities.

What this means for PPRC clients

Simpson says the new system brings some benefits, but also introduces a few kinks that need to be addressed.

One benefit is that more people will be eligible for PPRC’s support. In addition to serving different types of clients, their overall volume of clients will increase because their catchment areas are expanding. Simpson is confident PPRC can handle these demands by increasing their team of counsellors and job developers.

Another plus is that a formal diagnosis for disabilities is no longer required. “I had a young university grad who had lived experience with anxiety who doesn’t have a family doctor, so he hadn’t been diagnosed,” said Simpson. 

Under the previous system, their clients had to be eligible for ODSP Employment Support, meaning a formal diagnosis was mandatory. Going forward, PPRC can support people without a formal diagnosis. “It will open up more opportunities for people to self-disclose,” said Simpson.

Simpson is also flagging a couple of changes to her SSMs as potential concerns.

One involves how they can use their funding under the new “performance-based” model. 

“We have our base funding as well as incentive funding,” said Simpson. “After a client is placed with an employer, we get additional funding for the first three, six, nine and 12 months they remain on the job so we can keep providing support to the employee and the employer.”

But the time period for incentive funding which she calls “job retention”, is shrinking from three years to one, meaning some clients won’t receive the support they need over the long haul. 

This could also impact employers who rely on PPRC’s expertise to onboard and integrate high-needs employees. Losing an employee due to a lack of support comes at a significant cost to employers.

Another policy change that concerns Simpson is a requirement for clients to work at least 20 hours per week to be funded. “This will leave people with the highest needs behind,” she said. “Some of our clients don’t have the stamina to work that many hours, but they still want to contribute.”

What PPRC intends to do

Simpson has seen people with disabilities get left behind before, and has no intention of letting it happen again.

“In the past when my clients went to Employment Ontario for help with retraining, they were often turned away at the door,” she said. “People with disabilities haven’t forgotten how it feels to be labelled ‘difficult to serve’.”

Fortunately, Simpson will bring her expertise to the table, advocating for her clients with the local SSMs. That’s because under the new system, people will be screened by their level of need. Complex cases will be assigned to specialty companies like PPRC. 

“We want to make sure that we’re working with the SSMs to address potential problems before they start,” said Simpson. “As a Canadian Certified Rehabilitation Counsellor, I have an obligation to advocate for my clients.”

In addition to advocacy, PPRC is supporting their clients by updating their website and informing them of the changes to ensure transparency throughout the transition.

What’s tantamount for Simpson is treating her clients as individuals who deserve dignity and respect.

“I’m not interested in ticking off a checkbox. I’m interested in servicing my clients,” she said.

For Simpson, it’s not enough to get someone a job. She wants them to get the right job, and stay there.