The province will invest nearly $400,000 in a virtual program to help prepare people with disabilities for careers in food and hospitality.
The Ontario government announced Tuesday $380,000 to be invested to fund VjobReady, a virtual program designed by Career Services Brockville.
“VjobReady will provide apprehensive learners and job seekers a safe, supportive environment for exploration and skill development,” said Cynthia Sparring, executive director of Career Services Brockville.
Officials said the program will provide 160 people across the province in schools, job fairs and employment centres an opportunity to see what it would be like to work in various food and hospitality sectors.
Of the 160, around 50 will then move forward to more guided learning programs with the virtual VjobReady to develop skills like taking customers’ orders and food preparation or dealing with clients at points of sale.
“This innovative project will prepare people with disabilities for good jobs in the food and hospitality sector that strengthen their families and make our communities stronger,” said Labour Minister Monte McNaughton in a prepared statement.
The virtual training sessions will be provided in-person in Brockville and through partner agencies in Kingston, Ottawa and Niagara. The sessions will take place between late September and March 2022.
“We are building a stronger and more inclusive Ontario through our government’s advancing accessibility framework,” said Raymond Cho, minister for seniors and accessibility. “This program opens doors for people facing barriers to employment and is an important way we are enabling everyone who wants to participate in our economy.”
The program is funded through the province’s $115-million Skills Development Fund.
Sparring said work for the program has been ongoing for a couple of years. After interacting with a virtual reality system used by the Employment and Education Centre, Sparring said Career Services investigated if it could work for people with disabilities to learn in a safe and stress-free environment.
In a partnership with Queen’s University, a feasibility study was created to simulate a restaurant environment.
“It showed that this was a really good environment for people, especially with learning disabilities, to receive training,” said Sparring.
However, Sparring added that while the virtual reality environment gave promising results, funding was not immediate.
“But then COVID-19 hit and of course a lot more people saw the value in this technology,” she said.
“We’ve always been working and ready for this program because we’ve felt it really was a great tool for people.”
To apply, participants can contact Career Services Brockville, their local school board, the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) or a local employment service provider.