When Mark Wafer bought his first Tim Hortons restaurant, he knew it wasn’t going to be easy. After working his way up the ladder in a company’s automotive section, however, he was ready for a new challenge.
“An opportunity came along to buy a Tim Hortons 20 years ago,” Wafer said.
“And hey, in Canada, it’s the Canadian dream, right?”
It wasn’t easy at first. Wafer was working seven days and more than 70 hours a week. He knew he needed another employee.
That’s when Clint Sparling walked in the door. Sparling has Down syndrome. Two things struck Wafer when Sparling came looking for a job.
“When Clint walked through the door and I realized he had Down syndrome, I was kind of intrigued by the fact that he just walked in by himself,” Wafer said. “But I also knew that if I turned him down he was not going to find a job elsewhere.”
Wafer knew the challenges people with disabilities can face.
With only 20 per cent hearing since birth, Wafer has never had trouble finding jobs, but keeping them, he said, was another issue.
“Once they discovered I was deaf, that became the crutch,” Wafer said. “Everybody else was allowed to make a mistake in the workforce, but if Wafer made a mistake, the deaf guy, then it’s the disability, so get rid of him.”
So Wafer took Sparling on as his first employee. It wasn’t easy at first, and Wafer didn’t even know how he was going to train him, as he was working so many hours as a manager. But with the help of Community Living Toronto, Wafer said, Sparling went on to become one of his best employees.
Today, Sparling is still part of Wafer’s team, and he owns a condo and is married. Wafer said his confidence has grown so much that when the two of them were doing a news conference, Sparling waited until every camera was turned on before he turned to his boss and told him something.
“I need a raise,” he said to Wafer.
Wafer said the time to act is now, and employers must start hiring people with disabilities, or the looming labour shortage won’t be fixed.
“If we look at the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in Newfoundland, it’s no different than anywhere else in the country. It’s still 70 per cent,” Wafer said. “We have a whole community of people with disabilities who have the skill set and are just looking for the opportunity.”
Wafer said the numbers show benefits to hiring people with disabilities. He now has 40 people with disabilities on his workforce, and he said their numbers of sick days are often lower, and their productivity is often higher.
“Education and awareness is No. 1,” Wafer said. “If we can get 200-300 business owners in a room and we talk to them about how being an inclusive employer affects your bottom line in a positive way, then they will listen, especially if the message comes from another business owner.”
Mark Wafer, owner of several Tim Hortons franchises in Toronto, advocates hiring people with disabilities. — Photo by Angus McPhail/Special to The Telegram