Being employed is a rite of passage for youth moving into adulthood. Working and building a career offers a sense of fulfilment, opening up opportunities to thrive and exercise one’s right to full citizenship. The benefits of employment are many, such as financial security, advancement of skills, connection to community, and contributing to society. 

Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are too often denied their right to gainful employment. Research shows the largest barriers to employment are transportation to and from work and myths surrounding ability, safety, retention, workplace culture, and customer dissatisfaction. Yet, in British Columbia, approximately 18% of people who live with a disability are ready, willing, able and dedicated to working. At the same time, business are continually in search of new talent. 

How can a largely untapped talent pool of employees who live with a disability be connected to employers seeking to hire more people? The key is collaboration. 

For over 6 years Northern Lights Estate WineryReady Willing & Able (RWA) Inclusion BC’s employment program, and Inclusion BC’s organizational member AiMHi Prince George Association for Community Living have been working together to support individuals with disabilities to be gainfully employed in Prince George. 

The Infinite Employment Solutions (IES) team at AiMHi in Prince George is always looking to connect job candidates whose employment goals align with employment opportunities at successful local businesses. With the Northern Lights Estate Winery being a large employer in Prince George, the IES team asked RWA to reach out to the winery to discuss employment opportunities.  

Northern Lights Estate Winery is an award-winning internationally renowned winery and the pride of Prince George. The winery owners have been involved in the hospitality business for over 20 years and they know all about making sound business choices. When Inclusion BC presented the business case model of inclusive hiring to the winery, they immediately understood the benefits of becoming an inclusive employer. With the winery always in need of berry pickers, they began hiring AiMHi job candidates.  

The winery is situated on rural land and is not connected to the local transit routes. This has meant that to be employed at the winery, AiMHi job candidates would need to pay for and arrange taking a taxi to and from work. What could have been a financial and logistical barrier to being employed at the winery became an opportunity for many partners to come together. The IES team have been organizing with the winery and Prince George Taxi to get job candidates to the winery on their scheduled working days and RWA has been using their funding to pay the taxi company. The coordination of transportation for AiMHi job candidates to arrive at work on time has helped build a trusting relationship with a local inclusive employer. 

Through their partnership with Northern Lights Winery, AiMHi has discovered a local inclusive employer that values everyone’s contributions. For job candidates wanting to work outdoors in the berry fields the winery is very flexible and open to hiring employees who want flexible hours and days, have a broad range of abilities, and use various mobility aids. In fact, when the winery needs more berries picked, they choose to hire more pickers rather than replace their employees. Northern Lights Winery has also encouraged AiMHi job candidates to experience other aspects of their business such as their bistro and having full tours of the berry picking process. 

Over the years Northern Lights Winery has been a pioneer for inclusive hiring in Prince George. They are a phenomenal leader, mentor, and coach for job candidates by bringing a positive experience of employment to those experiencing community employment for the first time. The winery has made a significant impact on the inclusive hiring practices of other major employers by sharing within their employer-to-employer network their own inclusive hiring experiences and the benefits employees with disabilities bring to an organization. 

Through their partnership the winery, RWA, and AiMHi have shown the businesses and residents of Prince George that people with disabilities are ready, willing, and able to work and in doing so have deepened community inclusion and diversity. 

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