If you’re ever in need of a smile on a Tuesday or Thursday afternoon, head over to the Rocky Mountain Café in Comox. Erin is sure to fill the need.
“This is great, this is the best job ever,” she said at the end of a recent shift. “I love everything about it. It’s mostly about the people…, and Donna is the best boss. She makes you work hard, but she is like a best friend.”
Erin is one of five challenged workers working for Donna Elderton at the Rocky Mountain Café.
“It was probably about six years ago that I got to know one of the (Vancouver Island Community Connections) workers who comes in here all the time,” said Elderton. “I was having trouble finding dishwashers staying, so we got involved with the program. It started with two and it has kind of escalated from there.
“Erin is so friendly, always visiting with the customers.”
Vancouver Island Community Connections is one of a handful of local job placement societies for challenged adults.
It’s a mandate of Elderton’s, to help where she can. But she said don’t be fooled; it works, because they work.
“I wouldn’t have five such employees and continue with the program if it didn’t work,” she said. “Their work ethic is great. They are really committed to the job, and it’s a big deal to them if they are sick or need time off.
“Lots of times, (challenged adults) stay longer than other employees – most of them have been here at least three years. So there’s not the constant turnover; you’re not always having to train someone new all the time.”
Stability is key
Rob Burgess-Webb, who works out of the VICC’s Courtenay office, said the stability his clients offer to employers is a key.
“That’s one of the hidden benefits of hiring people with disabilities, because they do stay with their jobs for quite some time,” he said. “They are not transient; they aren’t moving around. Getting a job is not as easy for them in many instances so they are more likely to stay with one employer.
“Burgess-Webb said VICC Comox Valley runs in the 80 to 90 per cent “hired” status with its clients.
Tim Hortons is another champion of hiring challenged workers.
“We’ve got Ken at our Home Depot location, Eddy at our Comox location and Paul at our location near Superstore,” said Tracy Caissie, general manager of the four local Courtenay Tim Hortons.
She said there is no company mandate to employ challenged workers; it is simply a formula that works for them.
“The opportunity came to us years ago, when someone approached us, with their care worker, and said they were interested in working at Tim Hortons so we said ‘what the heck, let’s do this’. It started from there and we have just grown. Eddy has been with us for about eight years now. It’s never been about what our employees can’t do; it’s always been about what they can do.”
Eddy has become the unofficial ambassador of the Comox Tim Hortons. He is constantly in the lobby, keeping the restaurant clean and ensuring the experience is a pleasant one for customers.
Caissie said the one common denominator with all her challenged workers is their work ethic.
“They are all so happy to be there, and they all really take pride in what they do,” she said.
“It really matters to them, that they are doing a good job, and they do – they just put 100 per cent effort into it all the time, and they really bring a whole other level of joy to the workplace. It brings such a positivity, that you just can’t help being affected by it.
They have all built relationships with the customers and because they stay with us for so long, everybody gets to know them.”
Burgess-Webb said the relative lack of diversity in available jobs on the workforce is the biggest challenge he faces when finding employment placement for his clients.
“Every town or area has their own challenges,” he said. “For us it’s (lack of) variety. Here it’s mainly service industry and customer service type jobs, whereas the Lower Mainland would have more manufacturing-type jobs. Sometimes, depending on the client, those type of jobs might be preferred, but we don’t have that option.
“Customer service jobs are … you either like dealing with people, or you don’t. It’s hard to fake it if you don’t.”
Elderton said the personal enrichment she receives from her challenged employees is a bonus.
“It’s fulfilling for me, also, as far as being able to give them the opportunity of steady employment, and an income coming in. It’s important for them to have a ‘place of self’, where they have to be somewhere at a certain time, and fulfil the duties that are required … it gives them better self-esteem.”
Erin said she has some limits as to what she feels comfortable doing at the Rocky Mountain Café. She’s up for anything, as long as it doesn’t involve cash. “As long as I am not on the till, I am OK. Math is evil,” she said, with another laugh.
For more information on how VICC Comox Valley can help, call 250-871-7201.