Mark Wafer knows his audience. In a pitch for hiring people with disabilities, Wafer appealed to Richmond business owners' and managers' sensitivity to the bottom line.
"In this time of labour shortages, it makes good economic sense," said the owner of six Tim Hortons franchises in Ontario.
Wafer was speaking at an Employers Breakfast Friday morning to kick off Community Living Month.
Wafer has employed more than 90 people with various disabilities in all areas of his business and has become an advocate of workplace inclusion. He's made presentation to standing committees on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and co-authored Rethinking Disability in the Private Sector, a report from the panel on labour market opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Why? In a word, Clint. Eighteen years ago, Wafer had just, that week, opened his first Tim Hortons franchise in Toronto.
"He (Clint) came in with his mom, looking for work."
Wafer was swamped, trying to make a go of his new business.
"I didn't have time to train someone like that. My managers didn't have time to train someone like that."
Clint has Down's syndrome. But Wafer also knew, better than most, the struggles of living with a disability.
Wafer is deaf. Clint was given a job.
But what may have been an act of charity turned out to also be one of business-savvy. Reliable, long-term employees are what any business needs to thrive.
Eighteen years and numerous promotions later, Clint continues to work at Tim Hortons and, according to Wafer, is his best employee.
Clint is only one example of how hiring people with disabilities makes good economic sense, according to Richmond's Community Living, which aims to place many of its members in the workforce.
People with disabilities can make great employees - often better than those without disabilities, according to RCL, which points to a Statistics Canada report that found 90 per cent of persons with disabilities rated average or better on job performance than their non-disabled colleagues.
It's about finding a good match, explained the RCL's Lisa Cowell.
Some jobs have a huge turnover because they are entry level and new hires either get promoted or bored and quit. Yet, that might be just the right job for a person with a developmental disability, who can become a loyal, long-term employee.
But Wafer is also clear that benefits must go both ways.
He is no supporter of employer incentive programs in which the government pays for part of the disabled person's wage.
"That person will never be viewed with the same value. They'll never be promoted. They won't be seen as someone to invest in. All employees need to be seen as an investment."
Wafer is also no fan of voluntary work placements. In some cases, if they are carefully monitored, they can create a positive experience, but they can also lead to exploitation - where someone with a mental disability, for example, is working indefinitely for free.
"That's not acceptable. We have to really clamp down on that."
However, Wafer is a fan of holding business meetings like the one last Friday where business owners are encouraged to see both the business as well as social benefits of hiring person's with disabilities - and paying them competitive wages.
'I've been here since Tuesday and four people with disabilities have been hired as a direct result - and those are just the ones we know of.
The event also recognized businesses in Richmond that have already hired people with disabilities.
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