Weeks before Mark Wafer opened his first Tim Hortons franchise in Toronto, he hired a high school student named Clint Sparling who was looking for a part-time job. Sparling quickly became Wafer’s best employee — he showed up early, had no interest in taking breaks and wouldn’t consider going home until all his duties were completed. Plus, he took great pride in wearing the Tim Hortons uniform.
For Wafer, the business benefits of his inclusive hiring have been evident from the start. “The results are remarkable,” he said. “The typical annual employee turnover for a quick service restaurant in Toronto or indeed New York or Los Angeles is about 100 percent to 125 percent, but in my group of six stores, the turnover is 38 percent and has been under 40 percent for seven years. The business case is clear and it is obvious.”
Wafer also observes that his employees with disabilities work in a safer manner than other employees; he has made only one insurance claim for a workplace injury with an employee with a disability in the 20 years of running his Tim Hortons, and the claim was a minor one.
For Wafer, challenging beliefs about what people with disabilities can do is a personal issue. He has only about 20 percent of his hearing, and has personally encountered employers biased against the idea of including people with disabilities in meaningful and competitively paid positions.
To counter those misconceptions, Wafer is also an activist. “I began speaking about inclusion from a business case point of view about eight years ago. Business wants to hear this from other business owners, peer to peer. I have had huge success with these presentations and have now spoken in four countries,” he said.
Wafer also works closely with the Canadian government and is an active member of Canadian Business SenseAbility, a business association that helps employers feel confident about hiring people with disabilities. He has spoken out against sheltered workshops — places where people with disabilities are paid a pittance for doing manual labor.
And what about Clint Sparling? His employment at Tim Hortons has made him independent. In 2006, he got married and lives in a condominium with his wife. Sparling is not shy in front of an audience or a camera — in 2012, he was the subject of documentary about inclusive hiring, featured on the CBC.
Sparling sometimes joins Wafer when he is lecturing about inclusive hiring in his business seminars so that they can share an employer/employee perspective. “He likes to make fun of me,” Wafer said.