Lending a hand

Financial incentives encourage the hiring of disadvantaged workers – but also help employers

Anyone who spent five minutes on social media this past winter likely caught a glimpse of Toronto Starbucks employee Sam on the TV show Ellen. Sam has autism and a disorder that causes involuntary movements, so his manager helped him manage his movements with dance — and dance he does, non-stop, behind the coffee counter for most of his shifts, much to the delight of regular customers. 

Community-supportive hiring gave Sam a job he enjoys and a viral video gave Sam 15 minutes of fame, while furthering Starbucks’ reputation as a brand that does good where it can.

Clearly, there’s a lot of goodwill to be gained by hiring and supporting workers who can use a hand. And if there is a clear and immediate financial reward, the business case for hiring disadvantaged workers can be too compelling to ignore.

That’s the principle behind Rate Drop Rebate, administered by Social Capital Partners in partnership with the Ontario government and several financial institutions. The program launched this past winter in three Ontario cities: London, Ottawa and Hamilton. 

How it works
The idea is simple: Participating financial partners (Alterna Savings, CIBC, First Ontario Credit Union, Libro Credit Union and Meridian) offer incentives to businesses hiring disadvantaged workers. Companies sign up for the program and share staffing needs with organizers, who then send over resumés for screened and qualified candidates.

In this case, the candidates are people who would typically face disadvantages when looking for work, including new Canadians, people with disabilities, young people with limited work experience, people who’ve been unemployed for long stretches of time, older job seekers and Aboriginal Canadians living off reserve.

For every employee a business hires and retains for six months, the company receives a cash-back rebate equivalent to a one per cent reduction on the interest of a term loan, up to a maximum of four per cent. 

“This makes sense for small and medium-sized businesses because they receive a significant reduction in their loan 
interest cost,” says Bill Young, Social Capital Partners 

There’s also the no-charge talent on offer. 

“Businesses in the program are provided with free HR recruiting services and good quality candidates for their job openings,” says Young. 

And since there’s no obligation to hire any of the proposed candidates, cautious employers can rest a little easier. 
“They can choose to interview the candidates but they aren’t under any obligation to hire them if they don’t think they are a fit,” says Young.

More than cash
Theoretically, everyone involved has a lot to gain, according to Evelina Silveira, president of Diversity at Work in London, Ont.

“The financial incentive is a great way to encourage employers to engage and support people from diverse backgrounds who face barriers.”

Building a more diverse workforce has become a focus at many organizations — for good reason. 

“Diversity helps businesses deliver innovative services, products and insights because of the varied backgrounds of employees,” says Seema Banwait, consultant at Williams HR Consulting in Toronto.

Workers from outside the typical hiring spectrum bring new ideas and much-needed niche skills, too, says Banwait.

 “Students with limited work experience may bring experiences with tools such as social media,” she says. 

“Or, older workers might have experience and knowledge on tried-and-true processes and can provide valuable insights on what may have worked in the past, or is not working today because of changing technology,” says Banwait.

“And newcomers to the country bring a wealth of knowledge of different systems and processes that can be adopted and adapted for success in Canada.”

Research suggests hiring employees with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences can help employers manage expenses and grow profits, too, she says.

“Organizations that place a strong focus on building diverse workplaces tend to command stronger employee loyalty, have stronger rates of employee engagement and have better employee retention rates — all of which help boost productivity rates and reduce costs associated with recruitment.”

“It’s just good PR for businesses to be seen as equal-opportunity employers,” says  Silveira. 

Plus, she points out, “(Involvement in the program) may also bring in new customers who are similar to the people who work in the organization.” 

Set the stage for success
The key is to build a culture that values, encourages and honours diversity, says Banwait. 

“An organization needs to offer opportunities for new employees to present ideas, and diversity needs to be supported by senior leadership and role-modelled throughout the organization.”

Prepare, says Banwait, by “having comprehensive training programs in place and establishing dynamic mentoring programs where individuals have the opportunity to experience different perspectives and share business knowledge and strengths from their varied backgrounds.”

Anticipate that there will be road blocks and plan ahead, says Silveira. 

And for the sake of both the new employee and existing staff, focus introductory communication on the new employee’s abilities rather than any challenges. 

“It’s important that the employee is not seen as a source of cheap labour for the business owner but treated as a contributing employee just like anyone else,” says Silveira. 

“If (existing) employees are given the opportunity to learn new skills by having the program participant involved, or their workload is lightened, this will contribute to their buy-in. Existing employees will buy into program participation if the new workers lighten their load in some way. 

“If, however, employees are faced with more work and stress by bringing on a less experienced worker, it will not go over very well.”

The most important learning from the original Rate Drop Rebate program, with 80 franchise locations, is employers will completely, gladly participate in community hiring initiatives, says Young, “as long as they are provided with good-quality candidates in a timely, efficient manner. That is what we will continue to deliver on.

Latest stories