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EMBERS Staffing Solutions: Amazing Social Enterprise Collects Governor General’s Innovation Award and Continues to Shine

The Haskayne School of Business and the Trico Charitable Foundation believe Calgary can be a global hub for social entrepreneurship and leaders in the evolution of capitalism. The Trico Foundation Social Entrepreneurship Centre was established at Haskayne in 2019 thanks to a $5-million gift from the Trico Foundation to support student experiences inside and outside the classroom including community-based learning, internships, curriculum development and research. To build on this momentum, both organizations are collaborating on the Social EnterPrize award for outstanding Canadian social enterprises and What’s Next YYC, which awards prize money to Calgary & area based social enterprises. Learn more.

As one of our favourite examples of a Canadian social enterprise, a 2013 Social EnterPrize recipient, EMBERS Staffing Solutions (ESS) continues to excel by using the power of business models to solve social problems. Since the last time we touched base with Founder and CEO, Marcia Nozick in early 2019, ESS has paid 9.2 million in wages and benefits and grossed 11.6 million in sales. ESS main office is located in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.  In 2016, ESS opened its second office in Surrey, British Columbia to serve a demand for jobs and labour in that region. Since then, ESS has opened two more branches, in the Fraser Valley and in New Westminster, for a total of four regional offices. Marcia says:

“Last year, we employed and developed over 2,500 people. Our training program has gotten bigger, which very much dovetails into our construction staffing. We are training and employing workers who show promise, many who are starting over in life after a setback. They may start working with us doing general labour and, through our training program, we can help them gain new skills and certifications, which moves them up the career ladder and increases their wages. Someone may start out earning $15/hr and within a year, end up earning $25/hr or more.”

ESS runs another program for Correctional Services Canada, helping to find employment for people who are on parole. Marcia explains:

“It all integrates with our staffing social enterprise.  We are able to screen and employ candidates from this pool of people leaving the prison system.   We have some excellent employees from this target group and are helping to give them a chance at starting over in life.”

Since COVID-19 hit last year in March, operationally ESS has had to change how they do things. They used to have around 40 people gather every morning in a fairly small space where ESS would put out breakfast for people while they waited to be assigned a job placement. Unfortunately, ESS has had to close the space. Instead, Marcia and her team give out bag lunches and coffee. Marcia explains:

“We have to do a lot more planning, pre-planning, and making sure we are placing people in jobs the day before. We’ve also tried to get as many people as we can on direct deposit. We used to have more than a hundred people coming in on Fridays to pick up pay cheques. We had to make adjustments because of Covid space restrictions.”

ESS has also found that there has been a significant decrease in labour, for a number of reasons. There are less people either able or wanting to work at this time, because of the pandemic.

On the bright side of things, the construction industry has continued as an essential service so ESS is continuing to work with the construction industry and with new partners. They also have new types of work that have come about as a result of COVID-19, such as sanitization jobs and  new positions called ‘social distancing officers’ on construction sites. Most recently, ESS has experienced a surge in demand for staffing in the warehouse industry due to the dramatic increase in e-commerce and people ordering products online, during the pandemic.  As a result, Purolator has become a major new ESS customer, ordering more than 60 workers a day to cover shifts that run 24 hours, during this past busy holiday season.  In addition, EMBERS has opened up a new Security Staffing division, to offer services to construction sites and the retail sector.

ESS and Marcia’s hard work has not gone unnoticed as they received the Governor General’s Innovation Award this year. Marcia also won the 2020 Wendy McDonald Diversity Award for Entrepreneurial Innovation.

To accommodate their continued growth and expansion, ESS is upgrading its software systems, which will make things more efficient:

“We are going to have an app as well, which will replace our paper timecard.  Employees can receive online notifications of job openings that they can accept on their cell phones. It is a very different system, which will simplify our operations and help to save time and money that is currently spent on administrative tasks.  It will free up resources to spend on supporting our workers, who are the very reason we are in business in the first place – to help people get back on their feet and move ahead.”
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