Canadian vocational project seeks employment opportunities for the disabled
Rotarian Mark Wafer (right) recognizes Tawnya Walsh as 2010 Employee of the Year at one of his six Tim Hortons in Ontario, Canada. Walsh was a beneficiary of the district's service project. Photo courtesy of Mark Wafer
Several Rotary districts in Ontario, Canada, are helping to expand employment opportunities for people with physical or developmental disabilities by educating business leaders on the benefits of hiring them.
Districts 6290, 6400, 7070 and 7090 partnered with Community Living Ontario, a nonprofit association that advocates for people with disabilities, to create a vocational service project that provides resources and training for business owners interested in hiring people with disabilities.
By working with employment agencies, the project connects disabled individuals with job openings. Since its launch in 2009, the program has helped more than 130 disabled people find employment.
Project manager Joe Dale, a member of the Rotary Club of Whitby, says about 16 percent of the province’s population has some kind of mental or physical impairment; of those, 49 percent are unemployed. It’s one of the largest minorities in the country and a significant labor pool for businesses to tap into, he says.
“This project has helped a growing number of employers dispel the myths about the disabled by connecting them to [potential] employees with disabilities,” says Dale, executive director at Ontario Disability Employment Network. “We go around the province encouraging Rotarians and other businesses to hire those with disabilities and inform them of the benefits that come with it.”
Studies conducted by Community Living Ontario and surveys of employers have shown that employees who have a disability demonstrate average or above average work performance, are willing and able to work many different types of jobs, and improve staff morale.
Whitby club member Mark Wafer, who helped launch the project, says hiring people with disabilities gives him a competitive edge. An owner of six Tim Hortons, a Canadian-based coffee and baked goods chain, Wafer has employed more than 80 people with disabilities over the last 16 years for positions ranging from customer service to management.
Wafer says the benefit is “substantial." People with disabilities tend to stay with an employer longer, he says, because it has taken them such a long time to find a job. That reduces the cost of having to interview, hire, and train replacements. “Turnover is expensive.”
Wafer says his overall turnover rate remains low because all his employees "want to be a part of something special, they feel good about the inclusive workplace. It changes the nature of the work force.”
Expanding the project
Dale hopes to see Rotary clubs and districts across Canada take part in this vocational project.
Rotarians can use their influence in the community to demonstrate leadership when it comes to hiring people who have a disability, he says. “If business owners hear that this hiring won’t be a deterrent to profitability, then that’s a strong message.”
Participating clubs can use connections in their community to conduct informational sessions for business groups, chambers of commerce, and trade and professions associations.
David Onley, Ontario's lieutenant governor, who contracted polio as a child and remains partially paralyzed, says the project “reflects an important partnership between Community Living Ontario and Rotarians to assist Ontarians with disabilities find appropriate employment by forging relationships with businesses.”
The hiring of people with disabilities is one of the last frontiers of discrimination, says Wafer. “Rotarians, as business owners and professionals are well positioned to break down this barrier and open the doors to a more inclusive community.”