Do You Work for ODSP? Should I?
August 30, 2014 6:22 AM   Subscribe

Next week I have my final interview for a caseworker position with ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program). If they want to hire me, I'll have a tough choice to make - and it's even tougher because I don't know anyone who works for the program (or even in similar programs). Can you give me some idea about what it's like to work there, or in similar positions?

Some background:

I am currently employed by a small not-for-profit agency in a job that has a lot of great perks - plenty of vacation and personal time, great co-workers, fantastic clients, a lot of autonomy in my role, flexible hours, and an amazing reputation in the community.

The negatives are that the pay is awful (and hasn't increased in many years), there's no chance for advancement because it's such a small agency, and there's no way I'll ever be able to afford to retire on this salary.

I will need to leave this job at some point in the future, for all the reasons noted, but it's not urgent that I get out immediately. I could stay there for another year or two without suffering. I really enjoy the good parts of my job. That said, there are seldom any job openings of interest in my community and most of them pay poorly.

I think that the good things about ODSP are the salary (starting at 1.75 times what I currently make), the normal business hours, not being reliant on funding applications coming through in order to keep the job, the possibility of being able to retire someday, and ....what else?

I've worked for plenty of big for-profit companies, the kinds that have pensions and HR departments, so I know what that environment is like (almost the opposite of where I am now) and I suspect that ODSP is more like those jobs than the small, friendly place where I'm currently employed. I imagine I'd be essentially chained to a desk, have little autonomy, have little personal time/vacation time, and ... what else?

I will ask questions at the interview but I know that they're not going to grumble at me and tell me all the positives/negatives of the position - so I'm looking for some real info from anyone who's worked for ODSP or similar ministry/government positions.

Please tell me ANYTHING you think I should know. Some starting points:

1. How big of a culture shock would it likely be for me to move into a job at ODSP (or similar) after several years working in a small, not-for-profit?

2. What are the perks/drawbacks of working for ODSP (or similar)?

3. Is there still job security in a job like this? It's unionized, but I've heard some rumblings about working for the government not being as secure and stable as it was in the past.

4. Is there a chance of advancement from a caseworker job with ODSP? Can you move around/upward?

5. Bonus: They've asked me to bring my references to the interview and stated that they must include my current supervisor. My current supervisor has no idea I'm looking, let alone interviewing, for jobs. I would prefer that she not know until I've decided what I want to do. Any advice?

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total)
I don't work for ODSP but I have a caseworker there. She is positive about her job but she also works in a smaller region - City of Toronto might be a bit more im personable. The caseworkers I have talked to tend to have been on ODSP themselves in the past - I LOVED that they hired people with direct experience instead of recent grads. Because the job is split in two (one segment evaluates new client's medical needs, one segment maintains current case load, the workers I talked to liked that they weren't in a position to decline people in need. They focused on paperwork (oh, the paperwork) and connecting clients with resources. We just had an election and I don't see cuts to ODSP being part of the liberal game plan so I think it is pretty secure, at least compared to what you have now. You should clarify if the union is JUST ODSP caseworkers or part of a larger city/regional union that gives you more mobility to move around within the seniority list. If anything, I think working for two different, but related organisations would help your employability if you were laid off in future.
posted by saucysault at 7:23 AM on August 30, 2014

I don't work for ODSP, but I am a client. The workers I've met have, up until my current one, have basically seemed from the outside to be chair-moisteners from sector 7G. Very little engagement, almost outright contempt for clients. I suspect that's probably burnout; they do have to deal with pretty heartbreaking cases every day. But the physical layout--at least at the office I attend, Yonge/Gerrard in TO--is apparently designed to make clients feel subhuman. Thick glass protecting receptionist, meeting rooms with 3-foot-wide desks that run wall to wall as a barrier, grim dank and dingy.

Again, though, this is coming from client side, so I'm obviously not familiar with all of the office culture that leads to these attitudes. I suspect a lot of it is what happens in so many social services situations: death of idealism replaced by waiting until your pension vests. And I want to emphasize again that my current worker is fantastic.

saucysault, I'd guess that the union is probably CUPE. I think Ontario Works employees (in Toronto anyway) are either CUPE or whatever the city employee union is called.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:27 AM on August 30, 2014

I interact with ODSP workers as part of my job on behalf of my clients on ODSP. Their attitudes - and, likely, experiences - vary drastically. Some are engaged and helpful and probably great with their clients. Others take two weeks to return a phone call, seem suspicious of their clients, and are reticent to take any innovative actions. Working with this population is hard and your clients will probably resent you, some of the time if not regularly. It is probably for the best that you know going into it that this isn't your forever job. Every worker I have spoken to is burned out at least a little, it seems.
posted by hepta at 2:22 PM on August 30, 2014

It's very much an administrative job rather than a social worker/counsellor job. Its paperwork and documentation. There's a reason they have to pay what they do and it's because it's not terribly rewarding in other ways. People start working there and can't leave because of the salary and pension aka golden handcuffs.

Regarding your references, tell your interviewers that your current supervisor doesn't know you're looking and if they are interested enough to want to make that call to please just call you first so that you can inform your supervisor. This is not uncommon in my many years of interviewing. Your supervisor has heard it before so might be dismayed but won't be too surprised.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:21 PM on August 30, 2014

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