Sobeys store manager helps staff with disabilities realize their potential

At Nova Scotia's Cole Harbour Sobeys store, a third of employees have disabilities

Nova Scotia's Cole Harbour is best known as the hometown of Canadian hockey superstars Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon.

But the efforts of a local Sobeys store manager who puts a premium on hiring employees with disabilities is earning the Halifax suburb some newfound fame.

"Of course there is a humanitarian side to all of this," says Paul Keinick. "But at the end of the day, I'm a businessman, and I can tell you unequivocally that having employees with disabilities makes great business sense."

The father of 8-year-old twin boys—Gavin and Nate—who were born three months early, resulting in full blindness and numerous medical problems and developmental delays, Keinick is keenly aware of the challenges that people with disabilities and their families face in their daily lives.

But it was his work as a Sobeys human relations manager and his development of a training manual for hiring and managing people with disabilities—a project he completed during a year-long store manager's course in 2013—helped him to both understand and communicate the many corporate upsides on the issue.

"People with disabilities can be great employees," Keinick told Canadian Grocer this week from Sobeys Cole Harbour, one of the national grocery chain's two stores in the middle-class Halifax suburb.  "They want to prove themselves and they are grateful for the opportunity to work."

Among the many benefits that Keinick says people with disabilities bring to the workplace are reductions in absenteeism and increased productivity among all employees.

"There are many rub-off effects," he said.  "Everyone is happier to be at and work in an environment that is upbeat and inclusive."

Since he took over as manager of the 33,000-sq.-ft. Cole Harbour store in Feb. 2014, Keinick has increased the number of employees with disabilities from a few to 29.

Those employees, who deal with a variety of infirmities that range from deafness and physical deformities to autism, mental health issues and ADD/HADD, now represent nearly 30% of the store's workforce.

According to Keinick, customers are understanding and appreciative of employees with disabilities and the business where they work.

"It's enormously expensive to attract and keep customers and people are less likely to leave when they have a good feeling about a store and its employees," he said.  "Many customers have built great rapports with our employees with disabilities.  I get kind words and complements everyday from staff and customers about our inclusive hiring policy.  They love it."

Keinick's hiring efforts haven't gone unnoticed.

In early December, he was awarded Nova Scotia's 9th annual Lieutenant Governor’s Persons with Disabilities Employer Partnership Award, which honours employers who stand out for their efforts to help people with disabilities realize their potential in the workforce.

"Paul is extremely deserving of the award," said Marcus Jamieson, a client service co-ordinator with Team Work Cooperative, a Nova Scotia employment centre that develops and supports inclusive employment.  "He's changed a lot of lives."

For her part, Stephanie Forsythe, Sobeys Atlantic's senior director retail human resources, called Keinick "a leader at Sobeys" in the hiring of people with different abilities.

"He serves as a role model for all of our stores—demonstrating the value and potential of developing an inclusive workplace," she said in an email. "Paul’s achievement in his store embodies the company’s commitment and demonstrates what can happen with the right attitude and willingness to appreciate and leverage the talents of everyone within our communities.”

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