Workplace diversity could help solve tourism labour shortage

Photo: Steven Woo, employee of Vancouver Airport Authority, walking with friends and his assistance dog, Horatio.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Vancouver Airport Authority


What if there was a socially responsible way to fill staff vacancies, increase productivity, and reduce employee turnover?  September is Disability Employment Month in BC, an opportune time to explore how the BC tourism industry can take steps to become more inclusive employers while helping to resolve chronic labour shortages.

Willing workforce

In BC, approximately 334,000 people aged 15 to 64 years self-identify as having a disability. Hiring differently abled people can bring distinct advantages.

Low staff turnover

The Marriott International chain found a low 6% turnover among staff with disabilities compared to 52% in their overall workforce. A 2011 snapshot from Megleen Inc. (a Tim Hortons franchisee) showed low employee turnover for their 35 employees with disabilities—and no absenteeism. A 2007 DuPont study indicated that 90% of people with disabilities rated average or better on job performance.  A Job Accommodation Network study also found that more than half of 1,100 employers of people with disabilities benefitted from increased overall company morale and productivity.

Cost effective

Research shows that hiring people with disabilities does not always involve extra costs to a business. One US study showed that 57% percent of the time, no extra investment is needed to make a workplace accessible. In the 37% of cases reporting a cost, the typical one-time expense was only $500.

Case studies 
  • Many BC employers are having success by looking at their own business needs and playing to the strengths of their recruits. For example, SAP Labs Canada is seeking out talent in information technology. The company has a global goal to hire 650 people on the autism spectrum by 2020 through SAP's Autism at Work program. The program, launched in May 2013, integrates people with autism into the workforce, including 13 workers in their Vancouver office.
  • The Vancouver Airport Authority has high staff retention but helped diversify their workforce by hiring through a co-operative education program, including a student with a visual impairment who required simple assistive technology to succeed on the job. After graduation, the worker, Steven Woo, took a permanent position on the airport’s communications team.
  • Other employers have made easy adjustments to accommodate a range of physical and mental or cognitive abilities—such as a food market in Penticton who hired a worker with both physical and cognitive using the Technology@Work program. The worker made significant contributions to the restaurant’s bottom line and became a successful team member.
  • BC Hydro’s focus on safety inspired them to assess the potential risks for employees suffering from addiction, if it went untreated. This lead BC Hydro to develop a cost-sharing recovery program for employees needing treatment for addiction.
Resources and next steps

Destination BC’s President and CEO Marsha Walden is one of 22 change-driven business leaders in BC who contribute to the President’s Group, an advisory committee  to the provincial government that is working towards accessible, inclusive workforces.  Find related stories and case studies here.

“Tourism is a creative and forward-thinking industry. Accommodating staff with disabilities can often require a dash of ingenuity and a few simple steps.  For example, one luxury hotel down East places notes in their rooms to alert guests that a cleaner is deaf, then directs them to the front desk if they need help communicating,” says Destination BC’s Marsha Walden.

There are many programs available to help employers become more accessible, such as the Technology@Work Program, which provides assistive technology through the Neil Squire Society or the Open Door Group, which helps employers make their workplaces more diverse free of charge. Learn More here

Go2Hr also has many resources: