Hiring people who have intellectual disabilities is more than just "the right thing to do", it makes good business sense. Join host Peter Reynolds as he speaks with Marissa Marr, Manager of Career Connections at Community Living Mississauga, and April McKay, Director of Human Resources at TruEarth about the benefits of hiring inclusively, which leads to increased innovation, productivity, workplace safety and community support.
If you're looking for a job, or you're an employer interested in learning more about hiring persons who have intellectual disabilities, check out www.career-connections.ca or email them at email@example.com
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Peter Reynolds: Welcome to Community Living Out Loud, brought to you by Community Living Mississauga. I’m your host Peter Reynolds. On this podcast we celebrate the lives of people who have an intellectual disability and the incredible work being done to advocate for them and their families. Through conversations with experts, advocates and individuals with lived experiences we hope to inspire and educate listeners on the importance of building strong, supportive communities. Let’s get loud.
While we may not believe it at 7 a.m. when our alarm goes off, having a job is incredibly important. It creates economic independence and builds our self-esteem. We learn new skills and contribute to society in meaningful ways. It’s where we meet friends and develop lasting friendships.
In today’s episode we’re going to talk about the incredible value persons who have an intellectual disability bring to the workforce and the benefits they deliver to employers beyond simple altruism. And joining me today are two people who never press the snooze button when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and that’s Marissa Marr, manager of Career Connection Community Living Mississauga’s employment services department, and April McKay, director of HR at Tru Earth, an eco-friendly household product company in Canada. Marissa, April, welcome to Community Living Out Loud.
April McKay: Thank you. Nice to be here.
Marissa Marr: Thank you, Peter.
Peter Reynolds: Marissa, perhaps I can start with you. Can you tell me a little bit about your role at Community Living Mississauga?
Marissa Marr: Yeah. Absolutely. So my role is overseeing our employment services department Career Connection. So the primary service that we provide is working with people who have an intellectual disability on reaching their employment goals. And for the vast majority of people that we’re working with, they want to paid job. They want to be working; they want to be earning their own money and doing something that they enjoy doing. Right? Just like most of us do. And then on the flipside of that, in order to, you know, find those employment opportunities, we’re also working with employers. So employers like Tru Earth where we’re listening to what their business needs are, and helping them find that right candidate for the job.
Peter Reynolds: I know in your department that you say and consider employment the gold standard of inclusion. Why is that?
Marissa Marr: Well, when we’re looking at employment and we support people to get those jobs they’re working just like anybody else. So they’re working alongside their peers; they’re working alongside their colleagues; they’re making an equal wage just like everybody else in that workforce. And so you really can’t define inclusion any better than that. Right? They are just like anybody else in that workforce. They’re treated the same. They make money just like everybody else. And they’re contributing to that workforce to whatever the, you know, the product going out is. So they’re just like everyone else in those situations.
Peter Reynolds: For those people listening and employers, in a nutshell can you tell us why employers should hire persons who have intellectual disabilities, Marissa?
Marissa Marr: Well, I mean, in simple terms, like, it just works. Right? So, it just makes sense. So, you know, in today’s economy, you know, we can appreciate that it’s hard to find the right people for the job. And so when you can work with service providers like Career Connection you’re getting help to find that right match, and it just makes an employer’s job easier.
But then above and beyond all that there are a ton of benefits for businesses to hire inclusively. You know, we see employers see increased innovation. We know that they’re more productive. In fact, studies that have been done say that businesses that hire inclusive they are 72% more productive. We know that there’s a 45% increase in workplace safety. We know that people want to frequent businesses that hire inclusively because over half the population is impacted by disability. So you want to be reflective of your community and you want to ensure that you’re working with your community with what they want to see.
Peter Reynolds: So April, Marissa just said it just works. Would you agree with that statement?
April McKay: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. So this is an initiative that we started here in BC a couple years ago. And so when we knew that we were going to open up a location in the Mississauga area we knew right away as soon as the dust had settled and the operations were running as smoothly as operations can run, that we really wanted to bring Community Living into this location as well because it’s been such a positive experience. So we’re really excited to be part of this.
And yeah, it absolutely – it works.
Peter Reynolds: Take me back to that first experience of bringing someone on board and paint a picture for me.
April McKay: OK. Well, so when we first started it was a couple years ago and we did not know what to expect. We didn’t know what we were in for. We were very nervous just because we as the employer, we take the responsibility of bringing somebody in who may have challenges that the rest of the population may not have. We wanted to really ensure the safety of this candidate and of the team, especially in regards to the health and safety because we do run machinery. And it was such a smooth transition and it was really to the kudos of the team lead of Community Living that really kind of put our fears at ease.
So, like, working with this – our very first employee, making some accommodations in regards to noise levels and just trying to find a spot on the team where he felt supported and that he was fully capable of excelling in, and it was just – it was amazing. So here in BC we have five people and now in Mississauga we have two and we have a third starting on July 31st. So we’re excited.
Peter Reynolds: That’s fantastic. Marissa, I think that that sounds like a fairly common feeling that employers might have: you know, being nervous and not knowing what to expect. And can you talk about the value of working with the service provider like yourself for people that have those fears?
Marissa Marr: Yeah. And I think, you know, anytime something new comes across someone’s plate, like, you want to make sure you’re doing the right thing; you’re doing it properly. And that’s what our job is. When we go in and we talk to employers we want to hear about what you do. We want to hear about what you want. And we spend that time. We often will go on tours of the workplace. We’ll discuss, you know, not only just the roles and what you think you’re looking for but how does your business operate? What is your workplace culture like? And really building that connection with the employer so we’re a safe place.
I mean, ask those questions. If you’re worried about something, you’re unsure. Like April brought up, you know, safety in the workplace. We can speak to that. And, you know, she’s talked about accommodations. Most accommodations we know are costing under $500. It’s even less in all of our experience. So there are easy and effective ways and it’s our job to hear your concerns and address them. And then if these things arise with candidates we put forward, there are accommodations needed, or you’re not sure how to handle situations, that’s what we’re here for.
So we’re always a phone-call away to be there for employers and be that go-to person if they’re not sure if they’re doing something right or they’re unsure how to handle something. You have us by your side.
Peter Reynolds: So the support is on-going. It’s not just when someone’s hired that’s the end of your role.
Marissa Marr: Yeah. So we are very committed to being there from start to finish and seeing the full thing through. So we spend a lot of time again getting to know what our employers want, getting to know what their needs are. We support through the entire onboarding process. So any applicants that you’re going to get to us are pre-screened. So if you tell us there are certain things you’re looking for we’re making sure we’re sending you the right match. And then we’re also there if there’s, you know, any of the onboarding paperwork? We’re there for job coaching supports on site. And then we’re there even for the retention of the employee.
So with Career Connection, you know, even if something comes up two years down the road you want them to learn a new task, but you want some support introducing it, no problem; give us a call and we’ll come right back in. So we are there alongside the employer and alongside the job seeker for as long as we can be.
Peter Reynolds: That’s fantastic. What are your thoughts on that, April?
April McKay: Yeah. So just listening to all that, I think that I know for us here at Tru Earth but I think what other potential employers really need to understand is that there truly is this continued support. And their team came and did a walkthrough of our warehouse in Mississauga and truly got to understand potential barriers, our needs. Because truly the intention of this whole program is for it to be a benefit for not only the employee, but the employer. It’s not meant to put – to cause undue hardship on the company. So for us that was a big relief. And it truly is. It’s a safe space to ask maybe those awkward questions if you’re not sure about a particular candidate’s abilities or barriers, challenges. And that’s why it’s just been – it has been seamless so far.
Another thing also is that what we’ve experienced in BC is it’s not always a happy ending. We have had a couple people where it just wasn’t a right fit. And we had to let them go and then we brought in some different people that were more suited for this role. And it’s OK. You know? Like, it happens. It’s with any other employee. If it’s not a right fit it’s not a right fit.
Peter Reynolds: Exactly.
April McKay: And that’s truly how we approach it.
Peter Reynolds: Well, and I think that that seems very logical. I mean, you know, if we’re treating everybody equally and you have a diverse workforce things don’t work out. There are issues, workplace issues, whether you have an intellectual disability or not. And I think that there’s – I think we talked off the top this idea of the benefits to the employer beyond altruism. You know? This is not charitable work. The idea is that this is something that actually benefits the company. And I think a lot of employers might not realize that. And I know you touched on some of them, Marissa, and I thought we might just talk a little bit more about that – you know, some of the benefits beyond it just being a good thing to do.
Marissa Marr: Yeah. Absolutely.
Peter Reynolds: I’ll give you an example. And I, you know, so you talk about, like, employee retention and loyalty. And I know from my own experience with some individuals that I’ve worked with and that I’ve spoken with that work at various industries, the managers have said that sort of commitment level and the enthusiasm when they go into their job. You know? Often is a lot higher than a lot of the other employees there. And there’s an energy. And it really changes the very culture of the business itself.
April McKay: That’s really true. What we have seen is that, like, it – and I keep referring to BC but that’s where this whole initiative started for us. We’ve had our first employee; he’s been with us for two years. And it’s exciting because I know that people with disabilities tend to seek out stable and reliable work. Right? When they’re searching for jobs and when – so when they do find it they’re excited to be there and they’re not – you know, typically they’re not going anywhere.
And absolutely I know for us, for the culture, it’s – they’re fun. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of fun to bring in – yeah. Some really neat, neat qualities and it opens up the rest of the team who maybe in their little worlds aren’t exposed to people with different abilities than themselves. So it’s a beautiful teaching moment as well.
Peter Reynolds: Marissa, I want to talk a little bit about accommodation, just to touch on that a little bit more. And, you know, you said that most accommodations are sort of less than $500. And can you talk just a little bit about that when it comes to the type of accommodation that might be need to be met by an employer?
Marissa Marr: Yeah. I mean, it just – it depends on the person. And again, because we’re a service provider working with these jobseekers in advance of them coming to you we can speak to accommodations in advance and we can navigate those. So it’s something as simple as, you know, April said, you know about the noise levels. Well, you know, are there earbuds or headphones that can be used safely in the environment? We also provide job coaching on site. So for somebody who may take a little bit longer to learn a task outside of the training the employer provides, we can provide that additional person to augment that training for the employer. So that’s an accommodation too.
And again, the accommodations, they’re usually quite simple. Maybe it’s a different type of broom that they’re using or a different type of safety glasses that they’re using because it fits them better or helps them, you know, see better or whatever the piece is. And we’ll go about looking into what makes the most sense for that person.
So these things are really, really minor things. We’ve also before had to take a look at, you know, policies and procedures in the onboarding training to just utilize some more plain language. And when it comes to those accommodations what we’re also finding then is when we go back to the employer and say, you know, I think this is going to work better, it can also then just make things better for other employees as well. You know, even going into workplace and none of the items are ever going back in the right place. So they want us to train somebody on how to put all the tools back where they’re supposed to be.
But it’s like a messy area. There’s multiple employees doing it. OK. Well, how do we accommodate that? Well, why don’t we have visual pictures showing, you know, the wrench, the hammer, where everything goes alongside words? Those visual cues, those language cues for people. Now everyone’s using that and all of a sudden your workplace is tidier, which is safer. So now it’s accommodations that, yeah, pretty inexpensive, print out a couple things, and now everyone’s benefiting from it.
Peter Reynolds: Yeah. I think of one individual I know who works at Home Depot, and talking to the manager there when they started it was not working out. It was going to be one of these – the fit was not right because they were constantly late or they would forget about a shift and it was not working out. And it wasn’t until they were able to sit down and realize that this individual needed a set schedule, needed a consistent schedule. Whereas when you start a job sometimes you’re working at night, sometimes you’re working during the day, the weekend. This individual just needed to have set hours. And once they made that accommodation that cost nothing that individual has now been there five, six, plus years, never been late, never missed a day, brings enthusiasm every day to their job. And that was such a simple accommodation. And those are things that Community Living Mississauga and your team work with the employer to identify and then solve.
Marissa Marr: Yep.
Peter Reynolds: Is that correct?
Marissa Marr: Absolutely.
Peter Reynolds: Can I shift a little bit? Just I wanted to talk from the employee side. And maybe we have individuals watching now, or the parents of individuals, and they’re a little bit nervous the about the idea of, you know, their son or daughter going into the workforce, particularly maybe in a factory setting where safety becomes a concern. Can you talk a little bit about how you address their concerns and talk to those people watching, Marissa?
Marissa Marr: You know, so part of what we do is when we are meeting a new person they get connected to a job coach. So they get connected to a person who’s there to learn all about them. You know? What are your strengths? What are your skills? What are your abilities? You know? Where do you see yourself working? And sometimes people have no idea because they’ve never thought about work and that’s OK too, right? So, we’ve all been down that path. And of course you’re going to be nervous; it’s your first job; you don’t know what to do.
And so we really work with people on doing some career exploration on highlighting what they have to offer an employer and things that they might want to do for that. So we spend a lot of time doing that. And then even preparing them to meet those employers. We’ll do resume preparation. We’ll do interview preparation. So again, we’re trying to ease those nerves. We’re trying to support people to feel prepared and empowered to go into these situations and really advocate for themselves.
And our job coaches can accompany people to interviews if they see that’s something that would benefit them. And that’s our job, again, to navigate that accommodation with an employer.
And then when it actually gets to work, again, our job coaches can work alongside them to augment that training. So you have that supportive person who you know. Right? That person who knows you, that person who’s there if you have any questions to support you to learn how to work with your employer. And again, in looking at environments. I mean, people we support are as safe if not safer than their colleagues in the workplace. We would never place somebody in a workplace that was not a good fit for them.
And so, you know, if we’re talking about factories or warehouses, if there’s heavy machinery and they’re not at a point where they’re prepared to use that, then they’re either not going to work in that environment or they’re not going to be in that environment. Right? There’s other jobs to do. Maybe you’re not using that box compactor because you’re not prepared to be trained on it. And we go over what that looks like. If you’re not there yet, you’re not trained, you’re not going to do it. But let’s work up to it.
And so again, we’re there to hear their concerns but focus on all the things they can do and find that right fit. And in the end, like we’ve talked about before, you know, that’s where you find those longer retentions and those enhanced workplace cultures and people truly benefiting because they found the right job.
Peter Reynolds: The job coach is fascinating. I don’t think a lot of people realize that even existed. Was a job coach used for some of the employees with you, April?
April McKay: Yeah. Absolutely. Every employee we’ve had has had a job coach. And it’s really a collaborative effort on both sides to successfully integrate each employee into the team. No different than we would anybody else who’s just, you know, who’s applied off the streets. So to have that extra support is very helpful. It helps with maybe some the managers on site who’ve never dealt with whether this type of work experience before, and how did they help manage, you know, this new employee.
So it’s really, it’s not only just training for these employees; it’s a lot of training for us. You know, how do we need to de-escalate a situation that we’re not accustomed to de-escalating? And really a learning opportunity for us on each employee and how to best deal with that individual person. It’s really helpful.
And also to have a resource.
It also requires an employer to be flexible to be open and just the willingness to work, just to work together as a team. We’ve had, you know, parents come in and do a walkthrough of the warehouse when there was still a little bit of trepidation and just to put their minds at ease. So it’s worked really well for us.
And it’s nice to know that there is support for us as the employer that’s just an email or a phone-call away. It’s good to know.
Peter Reynolds: I think we need to change the podcast to the holistic – the podcast because I every episode I seem to say Community Living Mississauga has a truly holistic approach to whatever they do. And would you agree with that, Marissa, when it comes to, you know, we care about the employee, the employer, or the parents, the larger community. You know, there’s so many factors that go into it and you seem to be working with all of them.
Marissa Marr: Yeah. And that’s, you know, at the forefront of what we do. Like, we recognize that we have multiple stakeholders and we need to respect and appreciate each and every one of them that we work with for whatever capacity. And we’re so lucky to be able to do the work that we do every day and have those different inputs and experiences because it’s only helped us grow and enhance what we’re doing for each and every one of them.
Peter Reynolds: As we’re wrapping up, Marissa, I’m wondering – or maybe we’ll start with April. April, what would you say to those employers now who are on the fence? You know, who are – you know, when you think about sort of, you know, we’ve just come out of COVID and people have had to tighten their belts, you know, and maybe that bottom line, you know, it’s getting – yeah. You have to make decisions and it’s getting tougher out there. What would you say to those employers who are just a bit on the fence?
April McKay: I would say that not only is working with people with the team from Community Living or whichever organization that you choose to work with, not only is it not as scary and daunting as you maybe think it is; it does wonders for your corporate culture. I was talking with our operations manager in Mississauga. He’s had experience with working with organizations such as such as Community Living in the past and I said, what’s been your experience so far being in this new environment and with these candidates? And I just want to read a couple things because his comments back were just very inspiring.
Peter Reynolds: Sure.
April McKay: So he said it’s helped us embrace diversity in the workplace and our community. He said they’re punctual, reliable, hardworking people ready to attack any new challenge. Their sincerity is much appreciated. If you need honest answers they’re happy to give them to you. And the team enjoys working alongside them and they fit in with the team very well.
So I think what maybe other employers need to maybe put their mind at ease is that it is very much a collaborative effort and it’s just – it’s a good fit. And if it’s not a good fit then Tru Earth will help you find that good fit.
Peter Reynolds: That’s fantastic. Marissa, any final thoughts or words to employers or parents or potential employees?
Marissa Marr: I think just for, you know, people we support or their families, just, you know, even if you’re at the time of thinking about, you know, what’s next or not, consider employment. I think everybody should be having this conversation about, you know, what does work look like for that person? And set those goals young so that you can start working from an early age on working towards them.
And then for employers, I mean, again, just, I mean, be open to have a conversation. You know? We’re just a phone-call or an email away. There’s no expectation. You don’t sign a contract or anything. Just, you know, invite us in for a conversation. We’re happy to talk to you about what you do and what we do, and see if there’s a right fit to move forward.
Peter Reynolds: And it just works.
Marissa Marr: Just works.
April McKay: It does. It just works.
Peter Reynolds: Well, I think that’s a great a great place to end this podcast, which has absolutely been fantastic. Marissa, April, thank you so much for joining me.
Marissa Marr: Thank you.
April McKay: Thank you, Peter. It’s been a pleasure.
Peter Reynolds: And of course thanks to our audience, for without your continued support we wouldn’t be here and we absolutely love to hear from you so please be sure to leave a comment so we can hear your thoughts and know, you know, the things that you want us to cover. Because your suggestions, your comments, is what drives the topics on this podcast.
And of course if you’re listening on Apple podcasts you could always leave us a five-star review; we would not say no to that. And like, subscribe and share with your friends.
So for our guests Marissa and April and everyone at Community Living Mississauga, I’m your host Peter Reynolds. You’ve been listening to Community Living Out Loud. And until next time, stay loud.