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Life Lessons: Marcia Nozick, CEO, Embers

You can’t know everything, so import expertise
Dominic Schaefer/BIV files

Marcia Nozick founded the Eastside Movement for Business and Economic Renewal Society (Embers) in 2001. The charity and social enterprise located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is dedicated to creating community economic development opportunities.

In 2008, the organization launched Embers Staffing Solutions, an employment placement agency for construction companies. It’s a non-for-profit that operates like a business. Its mission is to provide a second chance for people who would otherwise have a tough time getting a job. Some are immigrants, some have a disability or have experienced addiction or homelessness.

“Its mission is to create transitional employment opportunities for people who are just getting back on their feet,” she said. Embers also provides training and extended medical benefits.

The company has been successful – over the past three years it’s grown so quickly that Nozick and Aason have scrambled to keep up, going from a staff of two to nine and revenue of $650,000 in 2012 to more than $5.5 million in 2015.

“We moved from placing 15 people a day to 160 to 180 people a day on worksites,” she said. “With that growth, we’ve had to develop systems to accommodate that.”

One of the things Nozick said she’s learned is to seek outside help. Nozick has a master’s degree in urban planning and studied community economic development for many years, but she recognizes where her expertise ends.

For instance, the organization is about to roll out a new integrated software system to manage applicants, payroll and accounting to replace a piecemeal system (Embers handles the payroll for all of its work-placement clients). To create the new system, Nozick and her staff hired IT consultants.

She’s also hired staff who have worked in operations roles at other temp agencies, a move that has brought extra industry experience to the company.

“That has been extremely helpful,” she said. “We’ve hired in some of that expertise, because as a social enterprise I didn’t have that expertise when I started. I knew what I wanted to do but you need to hire the right people in.”

On fuelling your passion | “I’m here in the morning at 5:30 and I drive a lot of the guys to work, and I get to hear their stories and it’s phenomenal when you hear first-hand from people who have really had no opportunities in their life and they’ve turned their lives around and they’re succeeding and we can offer them training opportunities. ... In the end, many of our workers go on and they go right up the career ladder.”

Has a work or life challenge taught you a key career lesson? Contact Jen St. Denis at [email protected]