Hiring society’s overlooked could help cure B.C.’s pandemic-fuelled job crunch

Since 2009, Mission Possible has trained dozens of people, including those who are homeless and have physical or developmental disabilities.

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A Vancouver employment agency is offering a solution to quell a COVID-fuelled job crunch that’s devastating B.C. restaurants, stores and businesses.

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“Meet the labour shortage by tapping into talent that’s traditionally been excluded,” said Matthew Smedley, executive director of a non-profit group that provides job-skills training to unemployed Vancouver Downtown Eastside residents.

This week, the agency released a comprehensive guide for employers on how their workplace can accommodate diverse staff members who are struggling with disordered substance use or experiencing mental-health crises.

“Approximately one-in-five Canadians have some kind of disability or barrier, visible or not. Simply put, there is a largely untapped pool of people who are ready, willing and able to work,” reads the guide .

It suggests employers allow their employees “time to attend meetings and appointments that support their treatment or recovery during work hours.”

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Since 2009, Mission Possible has trained dozens of people, including those who are homeless and have physical or developmental disabilities.

Vancouver’s Chris Middleton had six months of paid training, cleaning litter and garbage before he graduated and found full-time work in 2020.

“Before Mission Possible, I couldn’t get a job because I had no ID or cellphone. I had spent years on the streets using drugs,” said the 42-year-old.

After graduating from its job training program, Middleton became a support worker for a non-profit. He’s now helping others find stable housing.

“Many employers think it’s a risk to hire people from the streets — but in my current job, I’ve found people in poverty to be some of the hardest workers. They’re willing to work for what is theirs,” Middleton said.

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“Today I pay my own rent, have a job I love and a passion for the work I do.”

Last year, Mission Possible saw 15 of its participants land full-time jobs. Smedley is hoping to see 50 more graduates in 2022, to help Vancouver’s unemployed as well as businesses recovering from pandemic-driven losses.

“Right now, the biggest challenge for businesses is finding workers,” said Pierre Cléroux, chief economist with the Business Development Bank of Canada. “The labour shortage is hindering the countries’ post-pandemic recovery.”

A development bank study of 1,251 entrepreneurs found that 55 per cent were struggling to hire workers and 37 per cent had to delay or cancel orders as a result.

Statistics Canada 2021 data also paints the picture of a widespread labour shortage. In B.C., more job vacancies exist than in 11 of the country’s 13 other provinces and territories.

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In the last few years, B.C. restaurant chain Tacofino has hired a dozen employees with developmental disabilities as prep or line cooks.

“Employers often think hiring disabled people is going to be a lot of extra work but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Taylor Chobotiuk, head of people and engagement for Tacofino. “It’s a manager’s job to understand the needs of his or her employees. Everyone communicates differently. We start off our hiring process with an open dialogue, asking the worker how they best take instructions.”

Accommodations Tacofino has made include offering its employees more frequent breaks and communicating work duties using written to-do lists.

Chobotiuk said the restaurant chain’s more diverse staff are some of its most dependable: “Many have been with us for a few years now, doing great work.”

sgrochowski@postmedia.com

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