Diversifying Campbell River’s workplaces

Hiring a person with a disability is about getting the right person for the job

Campbell River is being held up as the standard in terms of inclusive and diverse employment opportunities.

“Employers here step up, they really do,” says Val Meany, executive director of North Island Employment Foundations Society (NIEFS), who recently organized the second annual employer appreciation event to celebrate those businesses in our area who actively hire from a particular segment of our population who have typically been overlooked as prospective employees – those with disabilities.

October is Community Living Month, after all, so what better time to recognize those who are helping with that?

“What we find is really powerful is when people hear the real stories,” Meany says. “When you talk to someone like Berwick, for example, and they talk about hiring a client, and you hear about it from their perspective, and you hear from the client, and it’s a pretty powerful message. People can easily look at (NIEFS) and say, ‘well, it’s your job to say that,’ but when they hear it from other businesses who have done it, it really hits home. That’s what will ultimately convince others to be more inclusive and hire from different populations that they might not have previously.”

Meany says while many might think a business hiring someone with a disability is doing so because it’s a nice thing to do, or because they get some kind of subsidy for doing so, it’s more about getting the right person for the job.

Often someone with a disability has the exact skill-set you need for a position.

“It’s easy to talk about it and say, ‘it’s a good thing to do, it’s a nice thing to do,’ but it’s a smart business decision. At the end of the day, it’s about hiring good employees,” Meany says. “It’s no different than when you hire anyone else. You have the list of skills you’re looking for, and you’re looking for the person who’s the best match.”

Shannon Baikie, who deals with the labour market analysis and services for NIEFS, says there’s an additional benefit for employers, as well.

“Employers also tend to point out the longevity in those relationships,” Baike says. “There’s tremendous loyalty, which obviously helps the bottom line in terms of retention rates and recruitment – it really impacts particularly small businesses when they’re constantly turning people over.”

Part of that loyalty likely has to do with gratitude.

“Many of us take having a job for granted, Meany says. “If you think back to the first job you had, and the people you met and the impact that job had on your life, and then you talk to someone who never saw that for themselves – that they would ever have real work for real pay – it makes all the difference in the world to them.”

Meany says that while many employers are on board with hiring people with disabilities, as evidenced by the attendance at the employer appreciation event, more still needs to be done to raise awareness about the benefits of having a diverse staff.

“Whether employers know it or not, they’ve hired people with disabilities,” Meany says. “It just might be that it’s not a visible disability and the employee hasn’t disclosed that disability.”

So what’s keeping some businesses from actively hiring from this segment of our population, if they’re doing it inadvertently, anyway?

Some employers, Meany says, are hesitant because they’re concerned about the amount of accommodation or adaptation they foresee if they hire someone with a disability.

“I think it’s a little bit about not understanding, necessarily, someone’s specific disability,” Meany says, “and as a result, there’s a fear or concern surrounding what you’ll have to do to accommodate that. Are you going to have to make some expensive adaptation to your office?

“There’s a fear of the unknown. It’s the same with any new hire, but when it’s someone with a disability, it’s just an extra uncertainty.”

“Sometimes it’s a matter of employers not thinking they have the capacity – whether they’re not big enough, or they don’t have enough resources to accommodate that person,” Baikie agrees. “Often it’s a very minimal accommodation that needs to happen. Or none.”

Meany used NIEFS itself as a model for how she thinks the demographic of a workplace should look.

“We hire the best people, whoever they turn out to be,” Meany says. “We have staff here who range in age from their 20s to their 70s, we have I don’t know how many countries represented in our staff here, we have staff with physical disabilities, cognitive disabilities, mental health disabilities, we’ve got it all going on here, and I think we have the best staff that you could possibly find.”

It’s fitting, then, that NIEFS received this year’s Diversity Award at last week’s Chamber of Commerce Business Awards of Distinction.

“That was a very nice recognition of the work we do in promoting inclusiveness and diversity within the community and that we are a very inclusive employer, as well.”

For more information about employing someone with a disability, or how Campbell River is leading the way, contact Meany at val.meany@niefs.net or give a call over to the Campbell River and District Association for Community Living – with whom NIEFS is a close partner – at 250-286-039.