Vancouver Sun: Potluck has a Knack for finding casual workers

May 10, 2016


The following article about Beedie School of Business full-time MBA graduates Colin Stansfield and Anna Migicovsky was published in the Vancouver Sun on May 5.

By Randy Shore, Vancouver Sun.

A social enterprise startup on the Downtown Eastside is assembling a small army of casual workers trained to meet the needs of the city’s business community.

Knack (knackworks.ca) puts its candidates through eight workplace readiness workshops during which they earn “micro-credentials” for each skill they acquire, including workplace communication, time management, teamwork and more recently, professional kitchen skills. Badges earned can be displayed in LinkedIn or Facebook profiles.

“It’s not unlike a Boy Scout’s badge, they are competencies that are far more attainable than university degrees,” said program manager Anna Migicovsky. The micro-credential movement is gaining traction in the United States as a way for people to earn and display skills acquired without formal education.

Knack is  reaching out to local businesses interested in employing people with barriers to employment, even for occasional jobs of just a few hours.

“For businesses that are already engaged in impact hiring, Knack is a way for them to streamline that process,” said Colin Stansfield, executive director of Potluck Cafe Society, which runs Knack. “For folks who are looking to get into inclusive employment, it can be a confusing environment so this is going to be a very easy first step.”

Companies interested in acquiring a social sustainability certification, such as B Corporation, may satisfy community service requirements by employing Knack’s workers, Stansfield said.

“We do a lot of talking about the power of businesses to achieve change and this is an opportunity to really do that,” he said.

The workers — called Knack Earners upon graduation — are people who have spent time away from the workforce or who have struggled to maintain full-time employment for a variety of reasons from physical or mental illness to unstable housing.

“These are people who actually have a lot of assets and expertise, but sometimes that doesn’t show on a resume,” she said. “What employers tend to notice is gaps in employment history.”

Thi Ngo was out of the workforce for six years before she was referred to Knack.

“I used to work but I left because of my depression,” she said. “After so long I didn’t feel comfortable going back.”

Knack gave Ngo the foundational skills and — more importantly — the confidence to re-enter the workforce.

“It was a good step for me, it really made me feel that I could come back,” said Ngo, who now works at Potluck Cafe. “After taking some steps with Knack I feel ready to go back to the regular workforce.”

Three groups of about 15 people have gone through the eight-week program. After a few dropouts, Knack has about 30 workers ready for casual and task-based employment. A separate stream of workers started a 12-week kitchen skills training program.

The first few cohorts were drawn mainly from local non-profits, longtime volunteers who are ready to graduate to paid employment.

“We have taken people from SOLEfood Farms, East Van Roaster, Union Gospel Mission and the Carnegie Centre,” said Migicovsky. “We are hoping that we can get them out of supported work environments and show that they have the skills to work for traditional businesses.”

Knack is operating with a two-year grant from the Vancouver Foundation and using the infrastructure and template created by the success of Potluck Cafe, a social enterprise caterer that has been employing people from the Downtown Eastside for 15 years. Knacker Earners are usually on income assistance or a disability pension, so they are only permitted to earn between $200 and $800 a month without penalty, under ministry rules.

Developed in partnership with RADIUS SFU and Ecotrust Canada’s joint initiative LEDlab, Knack expands Potluck Café Society’s successful social impact hiring model.

“Potluck has a long history of employing people in the DTES and those are stable, permanent jobs,” said Migicovsky. “Knack is a way we can touch a lot more people and connect them with the greater business community.”

Read the full article on the Vancouver Sun website.