EMBERS Staffing Solutions

EMBERS (Eastside Movement for Business & Economic Renewal Society) began as a community economic development charity in August 2001. With the mission of empowering “people living on low incomes to be economically self-sufficient and develop productive futures,” their goal is to reduce poverty and participate in the revitalization of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). EMBERS runs a program called EMBERS Staffing Solutions (ESS), which they operate as a social enterprise that provides temporary labourers for a variety of blue-collar industries, primarily in the construction field.

ESS’s worker population is comprised predominantly of people facing multiple barriers to employment, including people recovering from addictions, people leaving the prison system, people with English language challenges, and people with disabilities.

Their model is particularly successful because the social impact ESS creates is a direct result of their business activities. However, the most remarkable thing about ESS may well be how that impact is continuing to evolve and deepen in a way that may one day transform an entire industry. Not only does ESS offer competitive prices, their workers are carefully screened and given opportunities to upgrade their skills. Because of this they attract a strong pool of temporary workers and construction companies want to become their clients. Although other organizations in the industry are beginning to copy them in this regard, their social mission becomes an added competitive advantage.

Six years after launching, ESS has grown exponentially in terms of revenue and social impact. In 2014, from January through November, they employed 694 people who collectively earned almost $2,641,000 in wages and benefits. During the same period, over 400 of their workers transitioned to full time employment. While this kind of growth presents many new challenges, the knowledge ESS has gained leaves them well equipped to continue their successful journey

This case study describes the journey of EMBERS Staffing Solutions from a small operation to the very successful operation it has become today. In it you will read first hand about the difficulties and challenges of getting a social enterprise off the ground and then scaling it to keep up with demand. Some of the insights here are unique and some are repeatable, however, readers should find not only inspiration but also concrete advice on how to start and run a social enterprise.

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