When Kent Building Supplies was thinking about adding a person with an intellectual disability to their team, they didn’t have any of the concerns expressed by other employers considering the same move. That’s because Patrick O’Neil and his colleagues at the Kent Distribution Centre in Moncton, N.B. had been working with a team member who has an intellectual disability for over 20 years, with very positive results.
“When you have an employee who is consistent, never late, never calls in sick and is very conscientious, you go looking for others like him,” says O’Neil, Director of Supply Chain. So when another suitable position became available, O’Neil connected with Jon Lister, Director of Labour Market Facilitation with the New Brunswick Association for Community Living (NBACL). Lister is also NBACL’s liaison with Ready, Willing & Able, a national initiative designed to increase the labour force participation of people with an intellectual disability and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). After discussing the opportunity available at Kent and the employer’s expectations, Lister approached the Community Employment Agency (CEA) to help find the right candidate. CEA, a strong RWA partner in the Moncton region that provides support to employees with an intellectual disability and employers, was quick to find the right candidate.
“We interviewed him [Luc], just like we interview anyone else,” says O’Neil, “and he was hired.” Luc is a “picker,” one of 28 employees who fill orders for delivery to Kent stores across Atlantic Canada. Wearing headphones to receive instructions, Luc and his co-workers locate and gather the ordered items and prepare them on pallets for shipping.
Luc has been with Kent since August, 2014, and O’Neil couldn’t be more pleased with his performance. “He’s always on time, he works hard and he has never called in sick.”
That’s significant, when you consider that 2013 statistics show the Canadian economy loses an estimated $16.6 billion annually due to absenteeism (2013). When it comes to employees with an intellectual disability, 86% rated average or better on attendance when compared to their colleagues without a disability.
Employees with an intellectual disability rank above average on other performance measures, as well. In an Environics Research study, employers rated employees with an intellectual disability with an average score of 84% in the following categories: high productivity, dependable, engaged in their work, motivated, great attendance records and strong attention to work quality.
“That certainly has been the experience for us at Kent,” says O’Neil. “Both of our associates who have an intellectual disability are great workers.”
That said, O’Neil does understand why some employers may have reservations when it comes to hiring a person with a disability.
“It’s normal that you would have questions and concerns.”
Take the issue of safety, which is one of the most common concerns expressed by employers who are considering hiring a person with an intellectual disability or ASD.
“Safety is the number one bullet in our mission statement here at Kent,” says O’Neil, “no matter who you are. So we had to ask ourselves if we could accommodate persons with challenges and offer a safe working environment for all our associates.”
The answer was yes. As a matter of fact, studies show that 98% of people with a disability rate average or better in work safety than their colleagues without a disability.
Another common concern some employers express is that it will cost them money and human resources time to accommodate an employee with an intellectual disability or ASD.
“Hiring Luc did not result in any extra costs for Kent,” says O’Neil. “The Community Employment Agency helped with the hiring process and provided Luc with a coach, who job shadowed him to make sure he was integrated and up to speed. Those costs were handled by CEA and the Ready, Willing and Able program.”
Kent’s experience is not unique. When the Job Accommodation Network conducted a study of 2,000 employers, they found that 57% of employers reported ZERO additional costs from hiring a person with an intellectual disability or ASD. The cost was under $500 for the remaining 37%.
Even if hiring someone with an intellectual disability or ASD does cost a little something and require a little extra attention or a bit of effort, “What you get in return is worth it,” says Patrick O’Neil.
“Luc receives the same rate of pay and the same benefits as every other associate on the team, because he’s earned it.”
Would Kent hire another person with an intellectual disability or ASD? “Yes, we would,” says O’Neil. “As a matter of fact, we are already working with CEA to find our next candidate.
“Don’t be afraid,” he advises employers. “In my opinion, hiring a person with a disability is a good business decision.”
Funded by the Government of Canada and active in 20 communities across the country, RWA is a national partnership of the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL), the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance (CASDA) and their member organizations.