B.C. charity touts diverse hiring as partial solution to labour shortage

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B.C. charitable organization has partial solution to critical labour shortage
WATCH: With thousands of businesses across B.C. dealing with crippling labour shortages, one charitable organization says it's time business started looking at a potential workforce it's all but ignored up until now. Aaron McArthur reports – Oct 8, 2021

As businesses across British Columbia struggle with a labour shortage, one Vancouver-based charity thinks it has part of the solution.

Mission Possible says many employers are depriving themselves of good workers through unconscious bias and stigma around poverty, mental illness, disability and neurodiversity.

Read more: Labour shortage causing business owners to delay or cancel orders: survey

The organization, which helps people who have experienced homelessness or other major life challenges get back into the workforce, has now produced a hiring guidebook to help employers make use of a relatively untapped labour pool.

“There’s thousands of businesses that are looking for unskilled labour — not something that requires certification or lots of education — but they aren’t able to find the right people, and a lot of times that’s because they’re not looking in the right place,” Matthew Smedley, CEO and executive director of Mission Possible said.

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“If they’re able to think outside the box, and think about how they can do inclusive hiring, how they can hire individuals who may have some barriers to employment, individuals who may have some diverse abilities, who may struggle with a disability, those individuals have lots of skills, have lots of abilities they can offer to any business, so it’s really recognizing that.”

Participants in Mission Possible have access to coaching, skills training and other supports, and are able to get six months of paid work with the charity’s social enterprises to develop skills and confidence.

Read more: Some businesses offering cash bonuses amid COVID-reopening labour shortage

Steve Silvaggio, who lives with PTSD and bipolar disorder, is among its enthusiastic participants.

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“Mentally it’s helped me out a lot. Working part time has really done a lot of good for my mental health,” he said.

Through the program, Silvaggio has learned pressure washing, graffiti removal, landscaping and painting, among other skills.

“All the support, whether it’s for job resumes, cover letters, job opportunities, it’s a really good place to start,” he added.

“It makes me feel good. I feel energized, positive.”

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Vancouver eatery Tacofino, which has made diversity a cornerstone of its hiring process, has drawn workers from Mission Possible and a Vancouver Community College program that gives kitchen training to adults with cognitive disabilities.

Head of people and engagement Taylor Chibotiuk said some of those diverse hires have been the most stable and committed employees on the payroll, while creating an environment that benefits everyone.

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“We’ve benefitted immensely, because our culture is better from it,” he said. “We’ve had people stay on our team for a long period of time.

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“The more diverse backgrounds and characteristics and ways of thinking you have on your team, you do set a workplace culture where people feel comfortable being who they are as a human being … and it also contributes to higher levels of engagement.”

According to the latest Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey released Friday, British Columbia had among the lowest unemployment rates in Canada, at 5.9 per cent, a full point below the national average.

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