Inclusion Builds Employer Capacity and Community Connections

The Discovery Hotel and Tammaativvik Boarding House are two of Iqaluit’s leading providers of local accommodations. While both establishments have been operated by Edmonton-based Nova Group since 2018, their community history long precedes that time. Discovery Hotel (formerly known as The Discovery Lodge Hotel) was originally built to be Pan-Am Airline’s Crew Hotel and the current site has seen many celebrities, politicians and Northern legends pass through its doors. The Tammaativvik Boarding House, funded by the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) of the Canadian Government, provides for varied length stays for Land Claim Beneficiaries and their escorts on approved medical travel. A third building is currently under construction and will open in 2022.

In 2017, Paula Cagno and Eduardo Delascio Bufarah moved to Iqaluit (from Montreal) and have become Discovery/Tammaativvik’s General Manager and Food and Beverage Operations Chief, respectively. Paula and Eduardo (new Canadians who emigrated from Brazil in 2013), were quickly entranced by the natural beauty of Iqaluit and the culture of its people. And while there was much about Iqaluit that captivated Paula and Eduardo, there was one thing they noted that seemed much at odds with the Iqaluit spirit of community: much of the local labour force were not Nunavummiut. While rotational workers are a reality for many Canadian communities (and Paula and Eduardo themselves were such), for a business based in accommodations to have a largely “outside” labour force posed some key challenges with building community and cultural connections. Paula and Eduardo set out to change this factor, and over the past few years have hired predominantly from within the community; so much in fact that Eduardo noted that within the short-term future both Discovery and Tammaativvik will be staffed by almost 100% local hires. As a part of this effort, Paula and Eduardo were determined that the labour force they were helping to build would not only be of the community but would be representative of ALL the community. And that meant hiring inclusively.

Beginning in 2019, Discovery/Tammaativvik connected with local community organization Nunavummi Disabilities Makinnasuqtit Society (NDMS). NDMS is the only cross-disability organization in Nunavut, providing support to people across the lifespan from infants to Elders. As the Nunavut-based delivery partner of Ready, Willing and Able (RWA), one of NDMS’ key initiatives was engaging local employers to hire inclusively; the RWA program stream complimenting their related program streams dealing with employment preparation and longer-term on-the-job supports. Through RWA/NDMS Labour Market Facilitator Isaac Mensah, Paula and Eduardo were quickly connected with many eager job-seekers with an intellectual disability or on the autism spectrum. To date, Discovery/Tammaativvik have hired 7 employees via RWA/NDMS, amongst them Mike who works in the kitchens under Eduardo, and Morgan who works with Paula on the front desk.

Mike has worked for Discovery/Tammaativvik for the last 1.5 years. As a kitchen assistant, Mike’s role was very much in a support capacity initially, but Eduardo quickly noticed that Mike certainly had the drive for more.  Said Eduardo: “At first I think Mike wasn’t feeling respected by some of the other workers and he felt he wasn’t being used to his full potential. We started a series of Saturday kitchen classes with the aim of training up Mike to take on bigger roles in the kitchen. When people feel respected and included, it helps develop their skills.”

Morgan has also exceeded expectations with her work on the front desk.  Paula said, “We worked with Morgan and the other RWA/NDMS hires to identify any issues and find the best job fit within the various front desk roles. Morgan was willing and eager to learn and before long her job included training in Excel so she could assist with other administrative duties.”

While Mike and Morgan are only 2 of the RWA/NDMS job-seekers working for Discovery/Tammaativvik, Paula and Eduardo are encouraging the same sense of development amongst all their employees. Said Eduardo: “Everybody has the same rights and need to be treated in the same way.”  Paula continued, “Fostering teamwork helps focus people and makes them feel valued. It builds commitment between employer and employee, and creates a sense of shared responsibility. As people learn and grow, it contributes to the success on both sides.” 

Beyond encouraging skills development, Paula and Eduardo ensure that Discovery/Tammaativvik supports its workers as much as its workers support their employer. This includes up to 6 meals each day offered free of charge to staff; meals that include a range of fresh fruits and vegetables the price of which in Iqaluit often places them beyond the reach of many entry level workers. 

While hiring inclusively has been a tremendous success for Paula and Eduardo, they also note that there have been some challenges, but that like all challenges the key to meeting them is support. Both note that RWA/NDMS has been a vital player in providing on-going assistance, from ensuring that the jobseekers sent their way have had some pre-employment preparation, to assisting with longer-term on-the-job support; the latter of which can cover varied personal and professional issues.

Inclusive hiring has made a key difference to meeting the labour needs of Discovery/Tammaativvik. As originally envisioned by Paula and Eduardo, the development of a labour force that is now more Nunavummiut and more inclusive means the hotel and boarding house can be better employers in the broadest community-sense.  From helping with language translation, to enabling more culturally sensitive guest interaction, the RWA/NDMS employees excel far beyond their “on-paper” job roles.  The result is an employer that is simply more welcoming.  And when your business is providing accommodation, “more welcoming” is the biggest goal of them all.