The digital economy has and continues to play a key role in Alberta’s economic success and will be a central pillar to its recovery and rebound from COVID-19. Despite a struggling overall economy, employment in Alberta’s digital economy at the end of 2020 was above pre-pandemic levels. Not only has Alberta’s digital economy proven resilient to these large-scale economic shocks, but it has also created high quality employment for Albertans throughout one of the most challenging economic periods in modern history.
Employers in this rapidly growing digital tech space continue to assert that the demand for talent far outstrips available supply. They are also becoming increasingly aware of the reality that leveraging all talent streams is essential, including Albertans with disabilities. People with disabilities represent an untapped pool of skilled workers. Many possess advanced education in STEM disciplines, business, social sciences, and legal studies. Yet, according to employers, engaging and hiring people with disabilities remains a challenge, with many not knowing where to begin.
Using mixed methods — key informant interviews, literature review, an employer survey, workshops, and an advisory committee — this report looks at the barriers that people with disabilities face in accessing meaningful employment in Alberta’s digital economy. It also discusses the barriers, challenges, and overall uncertainty that persist among employers with respect to recruiting and retaining people with disabilities. These include a lack of knowledge of employer legal obligations and a lack of awareness of where to obtain reliable information and resources to shape better policies and practices. These and other factors combine to create employer resistance to hire people with disabilities.
However, there are also some opportunities and a pathway forward. Most employers are willing to hire more people with disabilities and want to develop training, policies, and organizational practices to achieve a move diverse, inclusive, and accessible workforce and work culture. Remote work was also seen favorably, with many employers viewing it as an opportunity for better engagement and increased hiring of people with disabilities. Although significant work remains to be done, employers are keen to broaden their pool of skilled talent and understand that people with disabilities can play a critical role in the success of their businesses.