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PROMOTING INCLUSION AND ACCESSIBILITY IN THE WORKPLACE AND OUR COMMUNITIES
At the Scotiabank Saddledome, Sous Chef, Grant McIsaac, Chef de Partie, David Petruic and employee, Maureen
WORKTOPIA is a unique national initiative designed to improve the employment futures of youth and young adults living with autism. It offers three employment preparedness programs focused on improving employment readiness and enhancing the employment skills of individuals with autism between the ages of 15 to 29 as they transition from high school to independent adulthood. There are currently twelve leading autism and pan-disability service organizations located in seven provinces across Canada engaged to deliver the Worktopia programs.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (autism) is one of the most common developmental disorders that affects the way a person perceives and communicates with the world. For the majority of autistic individuals these differences shouldn’t limit their ability to work and establish a career, yet employment rates are low and success stories few.
About 1 in 5 Canadians have a disability. Many of these individuals are ready, able and motivated to succeed in the workplace. Having a job provides independence, enhanced quality of life, supports well-being and improves self-esteem through a sense of contribution, accomplishment and work-related relationships.
Most employers have a genuine interest in hiring people with disabilities. As Grant McIsaac, a Sous Chef with the Calgary Sport and Entertainment Corporation notes, “We’re trying to get as many people as we can into this workforce. We’re looking to diversify, we want to build our team. We want to tap into every resource that’s available to us.”
One initiative that is helping Grant and his team embrace neurodiversity and promote inclusion in the workplace is EmploymentWorks Canada (EWC).
EWC, part of the Worktopia project, is a program for individuals ages 15-29 with autism spectrum disorder (autism) who are interested in developing the skills necessary to obtain employment. A unique and critical component of the program is ‘work sampling.’ Work sampling provides an accessible, low stakes opportunity for autistic participants and employers to explore skill affinity and ‘fit’ – together.
From the participants’ perspectives, work sampling provides an opportunity to enhance understanding of work preferences and skill sets. Comments collected through participant surveys state, “EWC gave me different job experiences to see which I’m most effective in.” “I got the feel of multiple different work settings.” “I got to see what it was like on the job and met all kinds of new people.”
For employers like Grant, the opportunity to provide a work sampling opportunity has multiple benefits. “This program – it’s almost a foot in the door – if I saw a resume that had literally zero (experience), they might not even make it to the interview, so having the chance to actually work with them, get them doing some of the stuff we do all day, if they show interest and want to come and work here – it’s rewarding for both sides.”
Similarly, his co-worker David Petruic, Chef de Partie says, “I like to see the participants, and who is really interested and is really taking a shine to what we do here on the prep team. I can gain knowledge (of the participants), and (discover) if this is something they would want to do.”
He also acknowledges the positive impact on workplace culture and morale, “It’s really nice. We get to work together as a team. For an (employee) who hasn’t worked with or known someone with autism, they get to meet and (experience) how amazing (they are), so I think that really adds to the dynamic of our team and builds everybody up, builds us as a whole team and group.”
Work sampling provides employers the opportunity to see a potential employee in action and experience the positive influence participating in a program like EWC has on their employees. Maureen, a former participant of the EWC program and current employee of the organization is a wonderful example of this. “She came in and started working with us two years ago. She’s learned different knife skills, different cuts, how to be precise. She helps us out in multiple areas, which has helped her and made a huge difference for us too”, says Grant. David also shares, “She’s been so receptive with the training. She’s been able to pick up things fast. It’s really nice to see that unbridled enthusiasm, because a lot of times, working in a kitchen, you don’t get that kind of response. To have people so happy to be working with this team, that’s such a great feeling.”
While in the EWC program, Maureen describes her experience, “I work sampled at 6 places. They were all really good and different experiences.” During job sampling with the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, Maureen shared, “We went on a tour of the Saddledome. We got to make some grilled cheese and then we got to make some cotton candy. A lot of hard work goes into making the food here.”
As an avid sports fan with a new interest and appreciation for the behind the scenes work at the Saddledome, the opportunity to work there was a perfect fit. “I love all the sports teams and I feel really comfortable here. I love the community feel, the friendliness”, says Maureen.
While employers contributing their support to the EWC program are only required to offer a work sampling opportunity, over 23% of the employers engaged, including the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, have offered employment to participants during or following the program.
Grant and Dave have tapped into this often overlooked and underutilized human resource recognizing the benefits of hiring autistic employees. Their advice to others employers, “Don’t be afraid, it’s just like building any other team. Anyone else that comes into your organization you have to train and work with them. It’s no different.” “Every single person deserves an opportunity to feel fulfilled and be a part of a team and company. I would absolutely encourage any employer to give (them) a chance.”
In celebration of Maureen and her employment success, and employers like the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation who are enabling individuals of all abilities to fully participate in the workplace and engage with their community, we wish you a pride filled National Accessibility Week.
Worktopia is sponsored by The Sinneave Family Foundation and Autism Speaks Canada, and is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s
Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities Program. For more information, please visit www.worktopia.ca.