• Recruitment

  June 17, 2015

Untapped Labour Markets: People with Developmental Disabilities

With BC’s current labour shortages, particularly among the youth, the tourism and hospitality industry is looking at new and untapped markets to help meet its employment needs. One skilled and viable – yet often overlooked – labour group consists of those with developmental disabilities.

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By tapping into this under-utilized labour pool, employers could see a significant return on investment (ROI) in terms of employee retention, decreased turnover, lowering recruitment and training costs, and other bottom-line benefits.

In terms of defining the term, “developmental disability” refers to an individual’s intellectual development. The abilities of those with developmental disabilities vary greatly, with most being able to carry on conversations, engage in social activities, work and participate in life’s routine tasks. As well, many in this untapped labour pool have previous practical experience in the workplace through specific skills training.

According to information provided by Inclusion BC, the ROI on employing those with developmental disabilities is also impressive for employers:

  • Higher retention rates than the general labour pool. This translates to less time spent on filling vacant positions, less time on training new workers and continued workplace efficiency.
  • Broader appeal to a new consumer market. By hiring from this labour group, your business may very well benefit by attracting members from this large consumer market as those with developmental disabilities tend to have large social and support networks.
  • Improved brand image. An indirect benefit of hiring from this labour pool is how it could positively influence your brand and communicate/reflect your corporate, social and societal responsibilities and values.

Some employers in BC’s tourism and hospitality industry are already taking advantage of this untapped labour pool. And it’s easy to see why, especially when taking a look at the HR Council of Canada’s HR Toolkit regarding job performance. Most notably, a study conducted in 2020 found the following:

  • About 90 per cent of people with developmental disabilities did as well or better at their jobs than their non-disabled coworkers.
  • Some 86 per cent rated average or better in attendance.
  • Staff retention was 72 per cent higher among persons with disabilities.

COCO Café in Nanaimo, BC is one hospitality employer that not only hires from this talent pool, but is the core reason this café was created. Officially opened in June 2011, COCO Café – which stands for the Cedar Opportunities Co-operative – is an incorporated cooperative whose mission is “to employ people with developmental disabilities within their community.”

The cooperative was founded by a group of families in the Cedar/Yellowpoint/Cassidy areas of Nanaimo who have adult children with developmental disabilities. These families first began meeting about this initiative in 2007, and COCO Café officially opened four years later.

As the general manager of this full-service café and catering company, Melanie Cadden has been with COCO Café from almost the very beginning and has personally witnessed the company’s growth and success due, in large part, to its staff. The café currently employs 15 staff members who have some form of developmental disability.

Similar to other types of businesses, the staff’s previous experience varies – some joining with prior restaurant/industry experience, some with previous work experience in other industries and others with no work experience. However, akin to other team environments, all have found their niche, developed their strengths and learned new skills at COCO Café.

“With every single employee here, there’s an expectation that they will do their job, do what needs to be done and contribute meaningfully to the café’s operations,” said Cadden. “Everything at the café is made here from scratch – this includes all the dressings, sauces, you name it. We make it all here, and it all gets done how it should.”

The employment opportunities at the café vary greatly for this labour market. Again, similar to other workforces, these team members have a variety of jobs and responsibilities, including cleaning, bussing tables, cooking and barista duties.

“There is no doubt that the success of this café is because of these team members,” Cadden said. “They work hard, they always show up, they’re dedicated and they really, really want to do a good job – and do the job the right way, as it needs to be done.”

Cadden also noted that it’s important to provide clear and specific instructions when working with those with developmental disabilities by offering, for example, a visual demonstration of how the job should be done, how they should get started and walking them through the entire process, step-by-step. One of the things COCO Café has done is to break down and simplify recipes and other tasks/responsibilities so the steps are clearer and more obvious. A specific example of this is their “look book,” a photo guide with helpful visual clues detailing the beginning, middle and end processes of a certain task, which can help these team members complete their shift independently and with successful results – not only for them, but also for the business.

“For us, we love seeing the results from this group. There’s no doubt – they are enthusiastic workers who love their jobs and are always happy to be here,” Cadden added. “Once they are properly instructed, these team members are highly efficient, motivated and detail-oriented with exacting standards.”

An added advantage for COCO Café in hiring from this group is its broader appeal to new and different clients, specifically those that form a support network for people with developmental disabilities. Due to these advantages and benefits, COCO Café continues to recruit new paid practicum students as a way to offer on-the-job skills training while – at the same time – supporting the community and benefitting from this untapped labour market.

For other tourism and hospitality employers considering hiring from this under-utilized talent pool, Cadden has some advice: “Have some patience and understanding that each new employee from this market will have different skills and obstacles that may require extra training and finding the right fit – just like anyone or anywhere else. With proper training, they can do the job better than anyone and contribute successfully to help create a profitable business.”

For more information on hiring from this diverse group, visit Inclusion BC, WorkBC or North Shore ConneXions Society.

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