When Joanna Patsakos joined the LCBO team in 2022, she brought two important things with her.
First, a masters degree in public policy from the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy with a focus on accessibility and inclusion, and second, experience as a senior policy advisor at the Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility.
That knowledge helped the LCBO senior accessibility specialist come away from a panel discussion about tapping into a unique talent pool with an idea.
The panel on How and Why Your Business Should Work with Employment Service Providers took place at the Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN)’s annual 2022 Rethinking Disability Conference, which included Performance Plus Rehabilitative Care’s founder and director of rehabilitation, Linda Simpson.
“Hearing about the work of PPRC and the success their client had with hiring someone with a disability allowed us to leverage their expertise, and actively recruit candidates with disabilities,” said Patsakos.
Solving two problems with one program
Inclusion is at the core of the LCBO’s mandate, which is why Patsakos was tasked to develop a pilot program for recruiting people with disabilities.
Patsakos’s research for that initiative led her to Simpson’s panel discussion.
“We wanted to develop a long-term relationship with PPRC to support our ongoing recruitment needs in the Ottawa region, which became an area where we implemented the pilot program,” she said.
The program cleverly helped the LCBO solve two problems at once.
First, it helped fulfill their own mandate to lead inclusion by example. Second, it enhanced their pipeline with an untapped pool of talent when their recruiters were coping with labour shortages in both the retail and warehousing sectors.
And most importantly, it gave people who’ve long faced barriers to employment a meaningful opportunity to build a career.
“We didn’t create a charitable program where employees with disabilities would earn less than their counterparts,” said Patsakos. “We also didn’t alter our performance expectations, and employees were not segregated to separate facilities or stores.”
Kicking it off and rolling it out
Patsakos and her team understood that creating a “disability confident team” had to start at the top. So they kicked things off with a session for their leadership team to discuss the principles, goals and business case for the program.
They created an environment where leadership felt comfortable asking questions freely and sharing concerns and feedback so the implementation team could support them.
The We Belong Here program got its start during the LCBO’s Summer Fixed term hiring period, from July to September, 2023.
“It was rolled out through a five-stage process including design and development, partnerships, delivery, evaluation, and scale rollout,” said Patsakos, adding that in the summer of 2023, the LCBO hired 15 people with disabilities.
By all accounts, the program was a success, Patsakos says.
Eight of the hirees continued on as casual employees, and another five were offered advanced Winter-Fixed term positions.
“Our management teams have been incredibly supportive and excited about the applicants received from our service provider partners,” said Patsakos.
She’s also proud the program created a better understanding of people with disabilities, dispelling myths and fostering an environment where they feel safe and welcomed.
What especially shone through the program was the value people with disabilities bring to the table.
In fact, the program was so universally appreciated the LCBO is doing it again, along with a few enhancements such as including information about the sensory and physical makeup of the stores in their job postings.
Perhaps the most important element of the program was its commitment to learning from their mistakes.
“Everyone knew we were there to support them if they reached out so we could continuously improve,” said Patsakos. “We didn’t want mistakes to limit opportunities for anyone.”
Simpson says she had the pleasure of listening to Joanna’s employer presentation at the 2023 RDC Conference and it was inspiring to see how the LCBO has championed the We Belong Here initiative. “The momentum is continuing to grow in other regions across the province,” added Simpson.
Want to know more about the LCBO’s We Belong Here program? Please email the LCBO Accessibility Team at Accessibility@lcbo.com.
For more information about how Performance Plus Rehabilitative Care Inc. can help you get started with a disability hiring initiative, contact www.pprc.ca or 613-748-3220.