Nattily attired in a smart black top and skirt, Puneet Rai presents the ideal picture of the young office clerk. And when you talk to her about her job, her dark brown eyes immediately light up and her mouth quickly curls into an infectious smile.
“I really like working here. Everyone is really nice,” says the 19-year-old Richmond native. “I like the fact that I can ask people if I need help with something.”
Rai has been working as an administrator at the No. 3 Road and Westminster Highway branch of Vancity since late last November and came through the Richmond Society for Community Living’s (RSCL) employment service program that provides individual support for those with disabilities in job searches.
In Rai’s case, RSCL was able to match her up with Vancity’s work inclusion program that, since it was started in 2015, has hired a total of 15 people with disabilities in administrative support roles and in information technology at locations across the Lower Mainland.
In central Richmond, Rai works three days a week — a total of eight hours with full benefits —and helps keep things running smoothly for Vancity branch staff.
“She does so much for us,” says Praveen Sidhu, community branch manager at the No. 3 Road location. “She shreds, files and organizes.”
She also makes the rounds of the offices to gather all the recycling material and ensures staff are all stocked with pens and note pads.
“She does an awesome job keeping us all in line,” Sidhu says, adding the Vancity program provides not only meaningful work for the employee, but sends a clear, positive message to other workers in the organization, which can act as a positive boost in the workplace.
Lisa Cowell, RSCL’s manager of community development, backs that up.
“We’ve seen over the years with various employers the value for other staff when diversity and inclusiveness becomes part of the hiring process, Cowell says. “You start to see the shift in thinking among other staff around the culture of the organization in a positive way. And when employers have a diverse hiring practice, they tend to also have an increase in (employee) retention because staff see the organization in a more positive way and see the value of the diversity in the workplace.”
Retention of a disabled worker at their place of work is also higher. According to Statistics Canada information, employees with a disability are 72 per cent more likely to stay in their job than their non-disabled counterparts.
While Rai, who has a developmental disability, has only been with Vancity for six months, she says the environment is one she enjoys more than her first job that was in a retail clothing store.
“I have seen her blossom,” says Suzanne Jackson, an employment specialist with RSCL, who has worked with Rai since high school to get her ready for the job world. “Part of it is getting older and maturing. But it’s also due to the experience she is getting here. It’s made her into a confident, young woman. It’s really great to see her grow with this opportunity.”
Part of that opportunity is to establish the worker in the economy and give them the satisfaction of earning a living.
“It’s an opportunity to develop financial independence and not be exclusively dependent on a personal disability payment, which is not enough for anybody to live on in a comfortable meaningful way,” says Cowell.
“It’s also opened up her support network,” Jackson adds. “Everybody here, where Puneet works, is now a member of her social network. That helps eliminate the risk that she is going to be isolated in the community.”
That became apparent recently when Vancity’s Sidhu noticed she and Rai attend the same church.
“She actually saw me at church and didn’t realize that I go to the same one as her,” Sidhu said. “And when I went up later and tapped her on the shoulder she recognized me and was so happy.”
So, what is it like for Rai to get a paycheque?
She breaks out into a smile at the question and says she enjoys being able to go out with her family and buy a meal.
“I spend it sometimes. I am not much of a shopper. But my sister, she is. But I save it, too,” she says, adding a trip to Edmonton this summer to visit cousins is one of her short term financial goals.
For RSCL, helping secure job for Rai fills one of the organization’s goals.
“We’ve been offering supportive employment since 2009 and we have a great track record with all kinds of industries. This is our first financial institution and for us having a large one like Vancity onboard demonstrates to the community there is a job for every single person,” Cowell said. “And Puneet is proof of that. There are positions in every type of company that are either undiscovered, or underdeveloped.”