TeamWerks Co-op is a social enterprise in Thunder Bay which is structured as a worker co-op providing employment options and opportunities for consumers of mental health services, TeamWerks provides individualized employment supports and services based on a holistic approach, which places the client, not the illness, at the centre of all vocational supports and interventions.
1. Background and History
TeamWerks Co-op, established in 1998, began as an outpatient partnership with St. Joseph’s Care Group and has grown to encompass eight separate enterprises offering unique products and services under a single umbrella. St. Joseph’s Care Group found that a worker co-op model allows them to offer these disparate services and the empower the members while simultaneously generating revenue. The eight business ventures comprising the TeamWerks Co-op are as follows:
- Good Times Cafe – Located within the Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital, and operated by clients and members of the co-op, it offers snacks, beverages and gourmet coffee.
- PaperWerks – A secure, convenient, cost effective and environmentally-friendly paper shredding service.
- PieceWerks – A simple assembly company satisfying packaging, assembly, collating, labeling and custom production needs.
- RagWerks – A top-quality industrial rag company offering rags for household, workshop or garage use.
- WaterWerks – A carwash company specializing in interior cleaning, exterior cleaning and detailing services for cars, trucks, vans, boats and motor homes.
- WoodWerks – A bare-wood carpentry company specializing in book cases, coat trees, Adirondack chairs, planters and more.
- GreenWerks – A community garden that provides an abundance of healthy produce.
- Lilypad – TeamWerks’ second cafe business venture, which is located within one of its sister buildings.
Services provided through TeamWerks are available to those who are 16 years of age and over, with exceptions considered on a case-by-case basis. Services are also provided to consumers with mental health issues who possess a desire to work. These services include:
- Identification of employment goals
- Development of an employment plan
- Assessments based on individual needs
Skills Instruction and Training
- Occupational-instructor-led one on one support
- Accommodations and adaptations within the work area
- On-the-job supports in a real work setting
- Development of employment opportunities through the social enterprise – TeamWerks Co-op
- Work in conjunction with community job developers to meet client employment goals
Information and Referral Services
- Access to other supported employment programs within the community
- Individual supports to clients wishing to start their own business
- Assistance in the development of viability assessments and business plans
- Clients, employment specialists and clinical treatment teams collaborate to provide a holistic approach which meets the client’s goals
The core objectives TeamWerks focuses on address a number of rehabilitation dimensions. One major focuses of the co-op is its social objective. This centers on the peer support and relationship building which stems from regular employment and interacting with others on a routine basis. In addition, the co-op aids in building its members’ confidence, thereby enhancing the benefits of social integration. Rehabilitation is TeamWerks’ primary reason for existence, with the social benefits this achieves recognized as the most influential driver in the rehabilitation process. For clients working within TeamWerks Co-op, there is ongoing support on an individual basis. An environment of respect and dignity is inculcated at all times.
3. Organizational Structure
Prior to the early 2000’s, TeamWerks Co-op consisted of two separate co-operatives operating out of the same site, and striving toward similar goals. Once it was recognized that the social enterprise model could create a synergistic single co-operative, the organizational structure was upgraded to the model that TeamWerks Co-op exhibits today. The structure is based around eight separate enterprises offering different and unique products and services. There are four supervisors working within the co-op, responsible for the supervision of two enterprises each. Their responsibilities include instructing, creating projects, delegating tasks, resolving conflict, and ensuring that each client is alert and rested, which helps to ensure safety. Overall, in terms of regular staffing, there are six full-time equivalents working for TeamWerks Co-op, as well as the occasional volunteer or student placement.
Thanks to a few of the co-op’s “cash cow” businesses, such as the Car Wash (WaterWerks), enterprises that provide social benefits to clients without generating a large profit but can be maintained .
Some businesses are highly successful in making a profit, which allows the possibility for new ventures to be added to the social enterprise, while poor performers can be removed. They offer an opportunity for initiatives with a high social value to be maintained even if they provide a low business value.
For the addition of a new business venture, ideas can be brought forward by any individual associated with the co-op, whether a supervisor, an individual from TeamWerks’ Board of Directors, or a client. The new ideas will then be assessed based on both feasibility aspects and rehabilitation aspects, as well as the likelihood of success for the business venture. Venture ideas deemed both feasible and beneficial to clients in the rehabilitation process may then be pursued. The flexibility of this structure allows for more success accommodating individuals, and strengthens the process for rehabilitation.
In order to best place clients within the organization, referrals for the outpatient program go through rehabilitation counselors to be assessed for best fit practices. Clients then have the ability to work within a given venture, to determine if they fit best there, or if they would like to try a different one better aligned with their strengths. One of the goals associated with this is that clients will benefit from informal peer support and a shared environment with all staff. As this placement is not permanent or fixed, clients have the option of transitioning throughout a number of the different ventures before making a decision about which one suits them best. Ultimately, this matching practice is in place to aid the rehabilitation process. Content clients in the workplace, who are happy in their jobs, are able to find respect.
At any given time there are about 20 clients working for the Co-op on time-limited placements. These clients working at any one of the co-op’s business ventures, and normally have a one to two year placement with the organization. Once this placement has been completed, TeamWerks Co-op will often suggest that clients move into mainstream employment and use the process of their rehabilitation to their advantage. However, since the employees of the co-op are also members, they retain the opportunity to return to the co-op if they would like to.
Since 95% of TeamWerks’ clients and members are on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program), this can increase potential barriers and challenges to employment. Rather than be deterred by the persistence it takes to work effectively with ODSP to maximize the clients’ earnings, TeamWerks works with the system to maximize earnings and quality of life. ODSP could be a deterrent in some cases , as a certain percentage of monthly earnings can be deducted from ODSP benefits for those with mental health challenges who cannot hold down a full-time job, or for those who need time off due to illness. It is up to TeamWerks to balance the hours worked by each client to ensure that they are benefitting from both the income earned from their employment and their monthly ODSP benefits. TeamWerks works effectively with ODSP in order to ensure that its members and clients are capitalizing on their earnings.
For an hourly wage, the clients either receive a training allowance or a patronage return. Members/owners receive the patronage return allowable under the Co-operative Act for worker co-operatives, which is in the range of $4-$6/hour. They also receive daily meals through the cafe that they own, and participate in and receive bi-yearly profit distribution. Clients’ earnings are reported and TeamWerks does its best to ensure that they get the required hours to receive the ODSP employability benefit of $150/month. Between the patronage return, bi-yearly bonus and monthly ODSP benefits, they earn close to, or exceed, the minimum wage in Ontario ($10.25/hour). The client’s total earnings just comes in a different revenue stream, and reduces the amount ODSP typically requires back. Clients on placement receive a training allowance, and do not participate fully in the bi-yearly bonus. They typically receive about half of the earnings that the owners receive. Both clients and members typically work 8 to 15 hours per week, and are accommodated based on individual needs and preferences in order to ensure that they are content and healthy in their workplace.
Marketing for TeamWerks’ Co-op extends along a number of different vectors. The first is its website, which showcases pictures and information about each of the social enterprise’s business ventures. It also provides info about the organization’s mission as a whole. TeamWerks also distributes posters and information packages throughout the community, to publicize its different services.
5. Funding and Financials
TeamWerks Co-op considers itself to be financially stable, as they are funded solely through operating revenue that is earned by the eight separate business ventures operating underneath the co-op’s umbrella. This is attributed to the support the co-op received in building on existing resources and supports provided through its partnership with St. Joseph’s Care Group.
Despite the fact that TeamWerks is able to function on operating revenue, the co-op has been the recipient of two grants throughout its existence. One grant was received to do a study on marketing techniques and effectiveness in hopes to improve Teamwerks’ marketing efforts. The second grant was received to finance special project funding that covered different aspects and needs of the social enterprise, such as administration and legal aid. Both of the grants were received from the Ontario Co-operative Association.
The co-op recorded $130,000 in gross sales in 2012, as net profit reached about $5,000 before taxes. TeamWerks Co-op uses a separate accounting system than its partner, and most accounting practices are done using the software Simply Accounting. St. Joseph’s Care Group has a reserve fund set aside for TeamWerks Co-op, which can be accessed through the board of directors. The reserve fund is mainly for office equipment and supplies that are needed but cannot be purchased solely from operating funds.
6. Challenges and Successes
One of the most important aspects of TeamWerks’ success and sustainability is its ability to employ clients who meet business needs while they are pursuing rehabilitation. Balancing social recovery and business demands can be difficult while keeping the individual’s recovery as the top priority. Individuals with high barriers to employment may experience too much pressure and stress if production demands are abnormally high, which could be a deterrent to healthy recovery. As a result, TeamWerks includes flexibility in its structure and in the placement of clients, to accommodate those who are willing and able to deal with a greater amount of pressure. Likewise, those who cannot are able to work at a healthier pace.
Another challenge faced by TeamWerks Co-op is that there is little room in the operating budget to add new staff to the program. This increases the workload placed upon existing employees. Each supervisor is placed in charge of two business ventures, and is responsible for ensuring that those businesses are operating smoothly, with clients who are comfortable and satisfied. Depending on the day, this can be extremely hectic and difficult for a single supervisor to accomplish. This pressure can result in compromising some aspect of their job. There has been a set operating budget for TeamWerks Co-op for the past decade, which has been limiting in the number of dollars that can be spent on hiring more program staff.
Thanks to its partnership with St. Joseph’s Care Group, TeamWerks has been able to build upon its existing strengths and resources. The land that Teamwerks operates on is used at a cost of only one dollar ($1) per year, and the buildings that it operates in are rent-free and available at no additional cost. The car wash business used through the social enterprise (WaterWerks) is considered to be the co-op’s most profitable “cash cow” business. It attracts a lot of business, and the building and water used in the process is also available at no cost to the co-op.
Another factor critical to the success of the co-op is that it is operating within a supported environment. This means that TeamWerks can integrate its comprehensive vocational rehabilitation program into many different options, each of which can further the rehabilitation process and ultimately be more beneficial for clients.
7. Lessons Learned
According to Doug Dowhos, Supervisor of Employment Options at the Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital, there are a number of things that can help build a social enterprise to be socially and financially successful. The first lesson is that diversifying business is important, in order to benefit from multiple revenue streams and offset costs. Social and financial goals also need to be balanced and treated equally in order to generate a profit.
That being said, it can be very beneficial to establish an ongoing partnership which funds the social costs of the enterprise. This needs to be realistic, and must also look at a long-term forecast to ensure feasibility and effective, meaningful social outcomes. Doug Dowhos also suggests one never lose sight of the bottom line, keeping business as the focus; otherwise it can potentially be sacrificed for social outcomes. Separating the business and social revenue and expense streams allows the social enterprise to track each bottom line and to know whether one part is helping to keep the other afloat.
In order to improve the ability of social enterprises to develop, there are a couple of other pieces of advice. Ensuring that the board of directors has developed a business-based culture will help to create financial stability for the social enterprise. This makes it easier to make decisions on business viability, while still keeping sight of the social mission. Having proper human resource practices in place is another important asset for any organization, especially for social enterprises in the development stage. They make it easier to make personnel and policy decisions when moving forward.
Greenwerks: Employees of GreenWerks are proud of their community garden!Consulting practices are also beneficial for start-up social enterprises, bringing in professional advice and guidance that you cannot find in-house. Having professional guidance and suggestions could help leverage the success of a start-up social enterprise with support and sound advice more than a social enterprise would be able to do it on its own. Finally, consulting staff and uncovering how they would like to see the organization move forward, and their visions, can lead to buy-in; this approach can serve as a significant step in working to achieve agreed-upon goals. The staff are an integral part of the organization and its missions. As they are on the ground working, consulting with them can give a clearer picture of challenges and opportunities.
In the future, TeamWerks Co-op aims to move towards a more community-based environment. Currently, all of its business ventures are operating out of one of St. Joseph’s Care Group’s buildings. Moving to a more accessible location may allow for more business to be built, and may result in more visibility for existing products and services. The organization’s social mission will likely also receive more attention as a result, building visibility with members of the community and potentially bringing in more customers interested in TeamWerks’ social goals.
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