Case Study: Vancouver International Airport: Recruiting People with Disabilities

Although the economic situation allows employers to have more resumes to choose from than they have had over the past few years, this is not going to last for much longer.

British Columbia’s tourism industry will be a leader in provincial job growth as businesses look to fill 111,350 new job openings in the next 10 years (2017 – 2027). Nearly half of the 111,350 job openings will be new jobs created by the tourism industry, the other half will be due to replacements i.e. retirements. This poses a challenge in the labour market – a shortage in skilled people to fill these jobs.

Fortunately, the BC government has a suggestion. Why not hire people with disabilities? They represent a talent pool of some 300,000 workers, of whom 34,000 have college diplomas, 30,000 have trade certificates and 28,000 have university degrees. Yet people with disabilities are three times more likely to be unemployed than those without disabilities.

Recruiting from this unique workforce requires a change of attitude among employers. According to a government report about recruitment and retention, fear of those with disabilities was identified as a dominant reason why employers choose not to hire them. However, research shows that hiring people with disabilities makes perfectly good business sense.


  • Ninety per cent of people with disabilities did as well or better at their jobs than non-disabled co-workers.
  • Eighty-six per cent rated average or better in attendance.
  • The vast majority required no special workplace accommodations.
  • Even if accommodations were required, they were generally inexpensive and tax-deductible.
  • Staff retention was 72 per cent higher among people with disabilities.

Vancouver Airport Authority is one example of a BC company with a track record of hiring people with disabilities. Past hires have included a quadriplegic who worked in the information technology department and a summer student with cerebral palsy who helped provide passengers with information services in the terminal.

The airport wants a workforce that reflects the community it serves, so hiring people with disabilities is part of the big picture. “We absolutely have a commitment to employment equity,” says Natalie Trudel, the Airport Authority’s employment advisor. “What we look for in these candidates is no different than what we look for in any other candidate. We want people with the right skills and experience. We focus on an individual’s abilities and experience for the job.” Despite a recent shift in the job market, the company remains committed to the program. “When we do recruit, our search efforts include working with agencies that assist people with disabilities who have difficulty finding work,” she says.

From the airport’s physical layout to sensitivity training sessions for its employees, the Airport Authority considers the presence of workers with disabilities. “We are very proud that our terminal is barrier-free, “says Trudel, “and we ensure disability issues are considered during the planning and design phase of new construction or renovations to our existing facilities. Our employees are also well versed in disability awareness, because we offer a full-day course where they participate in experiential learning. As a result, many of our employees have come to understand firsthand how our facilities and awareness help all of our customers have a positive travel experience at YVR.”

Overall, hiring people with disabilities has broadened the Airport Authority’s knowledge and awareness of the community it serves, while giving it access to a larger pool of workers than it might otherwise have enjoyed. “We have had a very positive experience,” says Trudel.

* Latest statistics available