Retail Inclusion, A Lost Opportunity

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Now that Ontario’s Bill 148, the Employment Standards Act, has entered its 9th month we are starting to see an increase in the number of workers with disabilities finding jobs. As reported previously on the Inclusion Revolution blog, many workers with disabilities lost their jobs when the minimum wage went to $14 per hour.

The loss of jobs hit the retail sector the hardest. It is estimated that 65-70% of workers with intellectual disabilities who work regularly are employed in the retail sector with the largest number working in the QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) sector. Not only were jobs lost, workers who remained had their shifts and hours cut. As well, the next cohort of workers who were ready to start work, were held back from January-April of this year. The cost to the economy of the intellectually challenged community was high.

The good news is that this is changing. However this change, which is benefiting new sectors, has not bounced back for the retail sector. Why? Because there is a lack of leadership in all retail areas.

More people with disabilities are finding work today than ever before. Some agencies such as ODEN (Ontario Disability Employment Network) are reporting that they simply cannot keep up with demand. This is wonderful news indeed. In fact, many of these jobs are in manufacturing, especially food manufacturing where wages are high and benefits are the norm. Compared to the QSR sector, entry-level jobs typically pay minimum wage and benefits are rare.

The list of companies who are building capacity with workers who have a disability is impressive. The work of advocates and activists is clearly paying off. Some of this, of course, is born of necessity as our shrinking labour force means employers have to reach out to normally shunned demographics. The disability community of course being the largest one.

According to Joe Dale, executive director of ODEN, these companies take about 8-10 months from initial contact to the individual’s first working shift. The good news however is that the company then employs 10-12 workers at a time, building capacity right away.

Where does this leave the retail sector?

A lack of inclusion reduces profits. It’s that simple. It reduces innovation, it increases turnover and it increases absenteeism relative to those companies that do have inclusive practices. It reduces sales and it reduces transactions.

Currently there is no leadership in the retail sector. Not only are brands not participating in inclusive practices, associations supporting retail brands lack leadership as well. A quick view of any of their websites will show this to be a fact. Of course they all indicate that they are inclusive and accessible but overall this is lip service.

This means there is a massive opportunity out there for a brand to capitalize on a clear competitive advantage. McDonalds at one time (1993) was going to be the countries star employer for youth with disabilities. The program died before launch when George Cohen, then CEO, left the company.

Who wants this? Would A&W like to add 15% to its bottom line and be the leader in inclusion for the retail sector? What about the GAP? Would they like to capitalize on a sure thing? Enjoy low turnover?

What about Wendy’s? Would they like to see increased traffic, transactions, sales? Or would they rather leave that to Subway and lose precious market share?

What about the Bay, Home Depot, Walmart?

This is a massive opportunity to be Canada’s leader of inclusion in the retail sector

Who wants it?