The Bright Side of Business bimonthly column is presented by Star Motors.
Amid the bleak backdrop of job losses caused by the pandemic, an Ottawa manufacturer is working with a local non-profit to create inclusive employment opportunities as it helps to safeguard Canadians from COVID-19.
Viral Clean operates a 25,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Nepean. Currently creating 50,000 masks daily, the company is ramping up its capacity with an eye towards producing more than 800,000 units each day.
When the pandemic first hit, Viral Clean started importing masks for the federal government. Quickly realizing they could make their own masks instead, Viral Clean pivoted, setting up shop within the month.
As it scaled up its operations, Viral Clean reached out to Ottawa-based non-profit LiveWorkPlay to ask if they needed any donated masks. A past recipient of the Best Ottawa Business Awards, the organization’s mission is in its name: ensuring individuals live, work and play as valued citizens. Founded in 1995, LiveWorkPlay partners with private-sector businesses, providing employment support to its clients, which include individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism.
But the offer of donated masks quickly led to an even deeper, more meaningful engagement.
“We learned more about the organization, and asked them to help us place two people here,” says Viral Clean CEO Alex Dugal. “We wanted to make sure that we were diverse and inclusive right from the start.”
Building strong bonds
When initiating a new employer partnership, LiveWorkPlay starts with a workplace assessment.
“We make sure that we can make the best match for the employer, and also for our candidate,” explains Alastair McAlastair Ghartey, LiveWorkPlay’s inclusion specialist.
Viral Clean needed support with its mask assembly line as well as custodian duties. After looking through their clients, Ghartey and his team suggested Stephan Groulx and Andrew Urie.
By January 2021, Groulx had started his new role on the assembly line, doing quality control.
“It's a machine that pumps (masks) out – it's pretty spectacular to see,” says Ghartey. “You have to be very quick, but you have to be thorough, because they're packaging them.”
Urie was hired as a custodian at Viral Clean.
“Obviously, it's a very sanitary facility,” says Ghartey. “They're both very important roles.”
Diving in together
Usually, at the start of a work placement, LiveWorkPlay will provide employers with detailed information about how best to work with their client. However, because Viral Clean was so busy – producing masks 12 hours a day, six days a week – LiveWorkPlay made an exception, with Ghartey training beside Groulx and Urie on their first day.
“As a company that was doing a hundred thousand things at once, LiveWorkPlay supported us fully through it,” Dugal says. “It was easier to onboard Stephan and Andrew than it is for us to hire an employee not through their organization.”
“They've both gained a tremendous amount of confidence."
Ghartey occasionally checks in with Groulx and Urie.
“They've both gained a tremendous amount of confidence,” he says. “Stephan – it's almost like he's a different person now. Like anybody, he's employed, he's earning his own money. The people that he works with are really good, so he's not as isolated anymore, particularly during the pandemic.”
Viral Clean was recently awarded a Health Canada contract to produce 10 million masks. Dugal hopes that, as the company grows, so will its partnership with LiveWorkPlay.
“As we need to bring more people on, we'll be reaching back out to them,” he says.
The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.
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