Clint Sparling loves his job.
And since the day Sparling, who has Down syndrome, began work at a Scarborough Tim Hortons nearly 20 years ago, he has been Mark Wafer’s best employee.
“He didn’t want to go home, he worked through his breaks,” Wafer says. “He had loyalty I couldn’t buy.”
Sparling, 41, keeps the dining room at Wafer’s biggest outlet running smoothly: clearing tables, operating the dishwasher, dealing with the garbage and keeping the floors clean. And he is clear about his feelings for the job.
“Working at Tim Hortons was like opening a door,” he says. “I love it.”
The job, along with his supportive parents and brother, gave him the confidence to expand his world further to a local swimming club, where he met a young woman named Katie. After dating a few years, he proposed. A year after their 2006 marriage, they bought a condo.
And as Wafer expanded his business, which now includes six Tim Hortons outlets, he expanded his pool of employees with disabilities.
Wafer hasn’t done this out of the goodness of his heart. He realized his bottom line was better than that of his cohorts, and that it was due to his staff complement and workplace environment.
“People with disabilities don’t leave,” he says. “It affected my turnover rate. The absenteeism rate with people with disabilities is almost zero.”
The safety rate also improved, Wafer adds. “People with disabilities don’t take risks,” he says.
At first Wafer’s hires were other people with developmental disabilities. Then he branched out and included other disabilities, people with sight or hearing impairment, mobility challenges, mental health issues.
He now has people with disabilities in every department, including management, changing the overall culture.
Tuesday, with the help of Lieutenant Governor David Onley, Wafer will launch Canadian Business SenseAbility, an organization that will help businesses hire inclusively.
With seed money from the federal government, seven corporations, including Loblaw, Royal Bank of Canada and Assumption Life, will form the first wave of businesses to benefit from the training.
Onley plans to stay involved in boosting employment for people with disabilities after his term ends this month.
“Ebenezer Scrooge, in modern days, would still be hiring people with disabilities, because he’d be making more money,” says Onley, the organization’s honourary patron.
“People with disabilities are the last minority group to be able to get into the marketplace and have real opportunities,” Onley says. “The future of SenseAbility is going to be very positive, because all of the business models are on our side. This is as airtight as anything can be.”
Whereas most fast food restaurants have a turnover rate of close to 100 per cent, Wafer’s is half that among his able-bodied staff.
Business leaders talk about a looming labour shortage, but that’s false, Onley notes. There are 800,000 unemployed Canadians with disabilities, 250,000 of them with post-secondary degrees.
“We don’t have a labour shortage,” Onley says. “We have an awareness shortage.”
For business owners, SenseAbility is aimed at their profit. “If you are an inclusive employer, you will have a better workplace,” Wafer says. “You will make more money.”
But for the workers, it’s much more than that.
“Having a job means everything, because I like working,” Sparling says. “I was born to work.”