Most shoppers at Meridian Meats never notice anything unusual about the employees who help them.
Besides a few small signs posted around the store stating the business is an inclusive employer, shoppers would never suspect the diverse abilities of the workers.
A year and a half ago, Brody McDearmid, Meridian chief financial officer, hired three people with disabilities to work at the Maple Ridge store.
“We just said, ‘When we’re hiring, we’ll consider anyone who applies.’ We’re open to hiring anyone with diverse abilities.”
Shortly after hiring the three individuals with disabilities, McDearmid received feedback from the store managers.
“The answer unanimously was that the impact had been so great and they were so glad they hired these individuals. They felt it brought their team closer together. Everyone suddenly felt really great about what was happening in the store. That was a unique side effect of hiring these individuals.”
McDearmid took an interest specifically in the autism community when his own nine-year-old son David was diagnosed with the disorder.
A concern for McDearmid and his family had always been, what would David do in the future as an adult?
Like any other child, many questions about David’s future will remain unanswered until he sets a path of his own. However, McDearmid is confident David will be able to have a meaningful career.
“The big concern we’ve always had with David is, ‘What’s he going to do in 20 years,’ recognizing that his potential to have a career where he contributes in 100 per cent possible. That’s where I feel the most pressure as a parent is pointing him in the right direction,” said McDearmid.
After only three years from the start dates of the first Meridian employees with known disabilities, McDearmid has been invited to speak on multiple panels, including WorkBC in Maple Ridge and the Canucks Autism Network.
From the success of hiring people with diverse abilities, McDearmid wants to see these individuals succeed in finding a sense of purpose and fulfillment with their careers.
“What we’ve been working on is how we can develop and help these people progress with their career at Meridian. We don’t want these people to come and be dishwashers forever, we want them to find greater fulfillment. That can be challenging because these individuals have varying abilities.”
At Meridian Meats, McDearmid and his team of managers brainstorm ways to help employees progress. McDearmid explained during the hiring process, the most important thing to do is not assume anyone’s abilities or disabilities.
It’s up to the individual to explain what they’re capable of and to disclose their disability if they wish.
McDearmid said employees with disabilities are able to bring the same skills as typical employees. Often an employee with a disability will be referred from various agencies and may be accompanied by a job coach.
“They bring everything a typical employee brings and a little bit more. They’re more reliable, punctual and more committed. They show up for shifts on time, every time and are committed to the company.”
McDearmid’s inspiration came from a Walgreens store in the United States.
He recalled hearing a story about a Walgreens distribution centre where 30 per cent of its staff was working with a disability, and it was proven to be the most productive and efficient of all centres.
At Meridian Meats, there is no mandate or set in stone rules about hiring people with or without disabilities.
“We don’t have a mandate. If you apply, and you fit, then we’ll hire,” said McDearmid.