Recently Steve Lenarduzzi and Inclusion Alberta’s Chief Operating Officer Wendy McDonald sat down to speak further about the partnership, starting with how it all began. Wendy noted that the partnership, which has developed organically over time, started years ago in the most obvious realm: construction. Wendy had met company founder Andy Clark at an Inclusion Alberta fundraiser, and as a result, Clark Builders has been involved in several renovation projects of Inclusion Alberta’s Edmonton office space, making substantial upgrades to the interior and exterior of the building. The partnership has now grown to see Clark Builders employing individuals with developmental disabilities.
At present, Clark Builders currently has three employees working at job sites across Edmonton thanks to their partnership with Inclusion Alberta and RWA. Like most who start with Clark Builders, these three employees were initially hired as general labourers. As Clark is keen to reward good work with advancement, one employee, Ian, has now been moved onto a large hospital project.
“Ian started out as a general labourer two years ago and really gelled with the team,” says Steve. “From there he moved on to being a skip operator at another site, a key role that is fundamental to the efficient movement of personnel and equipment on a job site.” Clark Builders has also offered Ian an opportunity to register as an Apprentice Carpenter, where they will partner with Inclusion Alberta’s Inclusive Post-Secondary Education initiative at NAIT. Ian is a valued employee at Clark Builders and was nominated multiple times for a ‘Golden Wings Award’ on a past project for attitude, safety and commitment to work.
Overall, Clark Builders has seen tremendous progress and reaped great benefits from all of their inclusive hires, benefits which go far beyond just an individual employee’s performance.
“When you see these employees show up with that level of commitment, it inspires everyone,” says Steve. “Eyes open up and you see the benefits of accommodation.”
Providing accommodations, Steve says, even as little as managers having to be more thoughtful about how they communicate, went on to make them better managers who in turn have had better-than-average career trajectories.
As for particular accommodations required and the benefits gained, Steve says that they were easily realized. Part of Clark Builders’ on-site safety program are written visual assets called ‘hazard cards’, which function as pre-task risk assessments. When the need for plain language arose, the cards were modified to prompt for verbal communication and understanding, also allowing for the required employee report-backs to be delivered via text instead of standard written reports.
“It was a small accommodation, and we still achieved all we needed to be achieved,” says Steve. “And it has far-reaching benefits including potentially adapting the same approach for someone whose first language isn’t English, as an example.”
Asked about challenges Clark Builders may have experienced in their move to being a more inclusive employer, Steve notes that any challenges themselves were not employee-centred.
“The challenges are never around the act of employing, but really around our own attitudes,” says Steve. “[Inclusive employment] challenges you to do some outside the box thinking. Everyone has different levels and abilities, so the challenge is seeing the opportunities and not focusing on preconceptions.”
Clark Builders and Inclusion Alberta are now exploring how to spread the inclusive hiring model to sites in Calgary and beyond. Not satisfied with the status quo, Steve is quick to point out that while they are moving ahead with more job sites, they have still yet to hire inclusively in their admin offices, where Inclusion Alberta would be pleased to expand the partnership.
Clark Builders’ work with Inclusion Alberta has not only led to successful employment outcomes but has also been a motivator as a company to address inclusion in a larger sense.
“We’re now committed to establishing diversity and inclusion goals all around,” says Steve. “We want to make sure our company truly represents society; we want ALL people to be able to see themselves at Clark Builders. While things don’t happen overnight, if you don’t have intention, things will never change. If you’re not doing something about it, you really run the risk of being a dinosaur.”
Steve is quick to point out that the real key to achieving inclusion and diversity goals is having solid community partners.
“Diversity and inclusion are hot topics, buts it is having RWA and Inclusion Alberta as partners that makes it so much more doable and ‘user-friendly’,” says Steve. “The partnership brings tangible assistance as well as great presence of mind, with a community partner delivering guidance, encouragement and even a sense of accountability.”
Looking back now, Steve still remembers the night of accepting that Inclusion Alberta Community Inclusion Award as the pivotal moment, which for him really spelled out the transformative power of inclusion.
“It’s just simply humans treating humans like humans,” says Steve. “And it can all start out from that basic point of, ‘give a person a job and their life will completely change.’ There’s not one critic in our company about our work with Inclusion Alberta. We’re simply a better company because of the partnership.”