Attitude slowly changing toward hiring people with developmental disabilities
So it was a perfect match 11 years ago when Thrifty Foods hired the outgoing Fattedad to help bag groceries and do carry out.”It’s fun to work with people. I enjoy working more than sitting around at home with nothing to do,” said Fattedad, who works one day at Thriftys, and another day as a caf attendant at Starbucks.While Fattedad proudly shows off the many “smile pins” he’s earned for exemplary customer service, he’s fre Toms Shoes quently stopped by shoppers who say hello to him by name before they leave the store.The fact Fattedad has Down syndrome doesn’t make a difference to his ability Toms Shoes to do the job but is noteworthy from an economic and business standpoint.In Canada, working age people with disabilities are historically under represented in the workforce only 56 per cent of them have jobs compared with 74 per cent of people without any physical or intellectual challenges. As for the paid employment rate of people with developmental disabilities (intellectual challenges) nationally, only 16 per cent have jobs. The vast majority of their jobs are part time. reported the average work week of a person with an intellectual disability was 13 hours, and only seven per cent reported working 40 hours or more.In the past, businesses that hired employees with developmental disabilities viewed it as charity but the reality is it’s good for the bottom line, said Mark Wafer, who is partly deaf and has seven Tim Hortons stores. Of the 250 people he employs, 40 have a disability and 11 have an intellectual disability.”Many have taken years to find a job, so the job becomes so precious Toms Shoes to them,” said Wafer, giving the example of one of his employees, who has autism. The man always arrives early, never calls in sick and has to be coaxed to take his vacation days.Wafer, who will soon be speaking to businesses in Langley and Chilliwack and to the Okanagan Teachers Federation, said he wants to put the message out that hiring people with disabilities makes good business sense.”We’ve tried to talk to businesses about it from the emotional heartstrings. It doesn’t work. They (businesses) will say they’re running a business and not a charity,” he said. “But when I start telling them from a business point of view you get lower staff turnover, lower absenteeism, higher morale, better safety and good productivity that’s when doors will open,” he said.Wafer noted some Tim Hortons stores face a 90 per cent staff turnover, which is costly. He estimates one person leaving costs him between $3,000 and $4,000 in advertising to find a replacement, plus training and lower productivity as the new employee learns the job. Staff turnover at his stores is only 40 per cent.”I’m making more money with a lower turnover,” he said, adding his employees who are not disabled also stay on because they appreciate the inclusive environment. “They want to be part of a company that wants to look after its employees,” he said.As for what the customers think, Wafer said he is constantly receiving positive feedback from them about his inclusive hiring practices.”I had a woman tell me she comes to one of my Tim Hortons and along the way she passes three others that are closer to her home. But she comes here because of who I hire. They are ambassadors for the company. What companies don’t realize is 53 per cent of Canadians have someone they know who has a disability. That’s a massive marketplace.”Starbucks regional director for the Lower Mainland, Shannon Leisz, said the company likes to reflect the community they serve, so it makes sense to hire people with developmental disabilities.While some disabled workers require one to one coaching, in some communities there are agencies that can assist, she said.”The benefits always out weigh any additional work that might be required.”When she started 13 years ago as a store manager, Leisz said she hired an attendant named Trevor, who had Down syndrome, who initially was very shy. “It took him awhile to come out of his shell. But after six months you could see his pride. When he put on his apron it was like his Superman cape. It was transformative,” said Leisz, adding he was one of her best employees.CLBC, which is the provincial crown agency responsible for providing services to people with developmental disabilities, Toms Shoes in March released a three year employment plan that aims to increase the number of employment opportunities by 1,200 paid jobs by 2016.”We really believe that with the right job and with the right supports, anyone can have a job,” said Shelley Gerber, the provincial employment coordinator with CLBC.CLBC began a partnership in December with the Rotary Club District 5050 which covers 25 Rotary Clubs from Delta to Hope to try to encourage Rotary Club members who own businesses to hire people with developmental disabilities.”The most effective way is for the business community to hear about it (hiring persons with developmental disabilities) from each other. They’re hearing about how it works as a business strategy,” she said.Ajay Caleb, chair of Rotary’s vocational services committee for District 5050, said he has just started visiting Rotary clubs in his area to explain the initiative and already there has been one successful match.”A person with autism was hired to do filing in an accounting office and the feedback is he’s better than the regular employee. The employer was just thrilled,” he said. Their next talk, Feb. 20, will feature Wafer as a speaker.Caleb said there’s often a misconception by employers that people with disabilities don’t want to work or that they will be a burden.A CLBC report has found research shows people with disabilities are five times more likely to stay on the job than other workers; 82 per cent have average to above average performance and 86 per cent have average to above average attendance records.