PoMo bakery makes work about ability, not disability

Conrad Tyrkin loves his job packaging orders and making deliveries for Gabi & Jules bakery to the three Caffe Divano locations also owned by the bakery’s proprietors, Lisa and Patrick Beecroft.

He loves the responsibility of getting the orders right and to their destinations on time.

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He loves the independence his job gives him and the friends he’s made at his workplace.

Tyrkin is on the autism spectrum.

In fact, of 15 people employed at Gabi & Jules, seven of them identify as having a disability; most of them are autistic.

For the Beecrofts, providing employment opportunities and an inclusive work environment to people with cognitive or physical challenges is a deeply personal commitment — their eldest daughter, Juliana, has autism.

The commitment has also presented challenges, Lisa Beecroft said.

When Juliana’s behavioural interventionist approached them about another client who was looking for a job, the Beecrofts had to deconstruct their business to determine how someone with unique qualifications and needs might fit in and make a meaningful contribution to the bakery’s work flow. It also had to make sense on the bottom line.

“It made us consider what inclusion really means,” Beecroft said.

They stripped down jobs to their various individual skill sets, from the most mundane to complex. It turns out some of the most repetitive, basic tasks that burdened already busy, multi-tasking employees were perfect for people who thrive on simple routine. 

So new roles were carved out, creating opportunities for people who could fulfill very specific tasks. The baking assistant, for instance, no longer had to be pulled away from their duties to load the dishwasher, fold boxes or make deliveries.

Beecroft said it made the bakery more efficient.

“You take the time to assess your environment,” she said. “You’re taking away the traditional lens you use to look as your business.”

There are hurdles, Beecroft said, such as navigating the various agencies that work with people with disabilities, training the new hires and existing staff, and identifying opportunities for job coaching.

“We have to make sure people feel comfortable,” Beecroft said. “Everybody engages in a different way.”

But the rewards go way beyond dollars and cents.

Employees are more invested in their work because they’re using their skills efficiently. They’re also more apt to stick around.

“They want to be here,” Beecroft said.

Having employees of various abilities working side by side has also sparked conversations that break down some of the mystery and shame of being disabled.

“There’s so much opportunity to look at the ability of individuals,” Beecroft said. “We can build a little more compassion and understanding in the workplace.”

• September is Disability Employment Month in BC. To learn more about opportunities for employing people with disabilities, go to www.accessibleemployers.ca.

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