Shaun O’Leary is happy with his new position, stocking Pepsi Co. products in Walmart at Uptown three days a week. Even with professional help it can take months to find the right fit in the work field, says O’Leary, who is on the autistic spectrum.                                 Travis Paterson/News Staff

Shaun O’Leary is happy with his new position, stocking Pepsi Co. products in Walmart at Uptown three days a week. Even with professional help it can take months to find the right fit in the work field, says O’Leary, who is on the autistic spectrum. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Pepsi employee at home in the aisles

Working with autism easy, if you’re given the chance

As if the learning curve at Shaun O’Leary’s new job stocking Pepsi Co. products in the aisles of Walmart wasn’t enough, the employee soon found a secondary challenge.

“A lot of [customers] come up to me asking for things, I have to tell them, I don’t know where everything is in Walmart, I only work for Pepsi Co.,” says O’Leary.

The 32-year-old would like to help, it’s in his nature, but first things first. He isn’t ‘touchy’ about living with autism but it does present challenges, many of which he’s overcome. For now he’s happy, successful and relieved to have a job to show up at three times a week, even if it’s just for two hours at a time, moving thousands of dollars worth of product each day.

“Everyone is very wonderful to me here, it’s a very good place to work,” O’Leary said. “But it took [two more positions] before I found this, it has to be the right fit.”

It was a good fit, O’Leary learned, as soon as he told his supervisors about his time at a UVic library when he delivered books and materials to instructors. O’Leary’s skill set with the library’s code of congress has served him well with sorting the numbers associated with each Pepsi Co. product.

O’Leary came to the job through a friend’s referral to GT Hiring Solutions, an employee agency hired by the province to help place adults with disabilities into the work place. This week they’re holding a thank you to those employers in town that have placed people into jobs.

It’s a good start but there’s still a lot of work-ready adults with disabilities who could be contributing, says GT spokesperson Maggie Kerr-Southin.

With one in seven Canadians aged 15 to 64 registered as living with a disability, which is about 334,000 B.C. residents. That’s one largely untapped employee talent pool, as many people with disabilities are highly educated and have comparable skills to people without disabilities.

The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is about 4.5 percentage points higher than for people without disabilities.

“There are a lot of people who could be working but it takes time, as [O’Leary] said, it has to be a good fit,” Kerr-Southin said. “It doesn’t cost anything and the [employee agent] stays with you for several months once you’re placed to provide ongoing support.”

In O’Leary’s case, his supervisor is really happy with his progress and creative thinking, Kerr-Southin said.

When O’Leary shows up to work, he moves the Lays, Ruffles, Doritos, Tostitos, Cheetos, and Smart Food popcorn and many other name brands in a presentable, well-stocked fashion on four different aisles in Walmart.

He’s learned the first-in first-out system and even took job to the next level. Kerr-Southin was told O’Leary actually studied how people were approaching the aisles and adjusted the Pepsi Co. products to face the customers as they approached, and it’s resulted in increased sales.

O’Leary’s also an accomplished volunteer reporter who’s interviewed Cindy Klassen, Hayley Wickenhauser, MLA Michele Stilwell, Nancy Green Raine and more for UVic’s CFUV radio, where he won the 2015 National Community Radio Association for sports programming.

Visit gthiringsolutions.ca for more information about hiring an employee or applying for a work placement.

reporter@saanichnews.com