Walgreens, Amazon, Wawa thrive on most often unemployed worker

Walgreens has been training and hiring neurodiverse workers since 2007. “We know from data and research that this is the highest unemployment demographic in the country,” Carlos Cubia, global director of diversity at Walgreens Boots Alliance, said of workers. disabled.

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When Cornelia Quinn, co-founder of Go-Be, which makes reusable antimicrobial covers for aircraft trays, needed help packing and fulfilling orders, she settled on her autistic 19-year-old son Jake.

It is difficult for a person with autism to find a job. More than half of young people with autism are unemployed. Unemployment among neurodivergent adults reaches 30-40%, which is three times higher than among people with disabilities. up to 85% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed, according to a recent Deloitte report. Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of conditions, including autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, and dyslexia. Given that one in 45 adults is on the autism spectrum, this is a huge untapped potential in the job market.

This is an important indicator for employers in the current labor shortage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half of US states have unemployment rates below their pre-pandemic 50-year low, and 13 states have unemployment rates below 3%. This means that employers are struggling to fill open positions and are more willing to look at previously overlooked segments of the population.

“Employers are trying multiple hiring methods and looking for resources they didn’t have before,” said John Dooney, Human Resources Management Society’s Human Resources Advisor.

“Everyone is struggling to find talent in the marketplace,” said Carlos Cubia, global director of diversity at Walgreens Boots Alliance. “What we know from data and research is that this is the highest unemployed demographic in the country. And these are people with disabilities. So it’s an untapped resource that businesses can hopefully turn to.”

Walgreens and Amazon harness neurodiverse talent

The stumbling block that employers face when hiring neurodiverse people is accommodation conditions. Because neurodiversity encompasses such a wide variety of environments, the adaptations required also vary greatly. People with sensitivity to loud sounds may need headphones to muffle the sound. Other people with severe dyslexia or other conditions may benefit from picture or color-coded signage.

Since its launch in 2007, the Walgreens Transition Work Group program has helped place 1,000 people in the company’s distribution centers. The 13-week training program includes both classroom and on-the-job training that teaches you how to ship and pack orders from the distribution center to stores.

“These people, after completing the 13-week program, are paid the same rate as non-disabled people, have the same performance expectations, and are treated the same as regular workers. We don’t cut corners to say where you know, your performance may be less, your expectations or less, we don’t do any of that,” Kubia said.

The company also has a similar program for its retail stores. The Disabled Retail Workers program trains employees with disabilities to stock shelves, unload trucks, greet customers, or work as a cashier. To keep the program going, Walgreen’s HR department and management are working with local community organizations and state and local social service agencies to help find and select candidates.

Employment coaching can be an important part of ensuring success. Wawa, which operates a chain of stores and gas stations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and three other states, distributes tasks among neurodiverse employees. Typical employees have a range of responsibilities from cooking to cleaning to customer service. An employment coach hired by the coaching organization, not Wawa, will help determine the right amount of tasks for the individual, which may vary depending on their abilities and desires.

Jay Culotta, Wawa Treasurer and President of The Wawa Foundation, said that when his daughter Hannah, who has Down Syndrome, joined the company two years ago, she worked with an employment consultant to make sure she completed tasks effectively and efficiently. “Over time, as Hanna became more independent, this employment consultant began to disappear,” Culotta said.

Vava has been with Eden Autism Services in New Jersey for over 40 years. The partnership began when, in 1981, through Eden, the store manager hired Ari Scheiner, who had autism. Now Vava works with more than 200 different employment organizations. Shiner is still with the company, and Vava has about 30 other neurodiverse employees who have been there for at least 20 years.

While some neurodiverse people may need more adaptations, many don’t.

“Normally the fixtures needed are small,” said Dan Roth, tech recruiter at Amazon who, as a person with ADHD, is also considered to be neurodiverse. “If someone is running at 50% of their capacity, but if you make two or three light fixtures and it takes them to 85 or 95%… look how much more ROI you get,” he said.

AT go-be, which employs four neurodiverse individuals, Quinn breaks down tasks to best suit each individual. While her son, Jake, is especially good at computer-related tasks, the other member really enjoys rolling up and rolling up his sleeves. “It’s almost therapeutic for him,” she said. “We have created stations for them, and we really want to contribute to their success and provide them with social opportunities to collaborate with each other to fulfill their role or task,” Quinn said.

Cornelia Quinn, co-founder of Go-Be, and her autistic son Jake. She says she hires her son and other neurodiverse workers, the goal is for them to “feel like when they wake up in the morning they have something to look forward to and just feel like they’re part of society and that they’re re-contributing.” “.


While hiring neurodiverse people may require some accommodations and investment, recruiters and companies that have gone through the process say there are payoffs, both financial and otherwise.

“These people are very reliable, very good in terms of productivity… they are very methodical and thoughtful in how they do their job, paying attention to detail,” Kubia said.

The dropout rate for individuals who complete the TWG Walgreen program is 25% below the norm at Walgreen distribution centers. Retention is also higher, Kubia said. “You’ve heard the old adage that retaining an employee is cheaper than acquiring a new one. From that perspective, it helps you save money,” he said.

In addition, the IRS offers tax credits and incentives to companies that employ people with disabilities, which may include people with neurodiversity. Some benefits are aimed at offsetting the cost of living.

For Wawa, remuneration is not necessarily related to performance or profit margins.

“We have a few employees in this program who are just as efficient and productive as our regular employees… And we have some that just aren’t on the cards, and that’s okay. Their scope of work can be very, very narrow, or they can work full time. with my employment coach,” said Dave Simonetti, senior director of store operations at Wawa, “but there are other things that are brought to the table.”

These other qualities are harder to quantify, but they are just as important. “Employees who work with them feel that the community is really supportive of this program. This is a huge win in customer service and opens up huge opportunities in our industry. In many cases, this is a big plus just for interacting with customers. indicators,” he said.

Wawa has about 47,000 employees, 500 of whom are neurodiverse.

While companies such as SAP, Microsoft, Ford, Deloitte, IBM, and others have changed their corporate HR practices to attract more neurodiverse people for coding or other technical work, efforts to hire neurodiverse people to perform, distribute, or retailers are more scattered. Part of the bias stems from the notion that neurodiversity or people with disabilities can’t keep up with a business that monitors performance so closely.

Arvin Swanger, Neural Diversity Recruiter for and WilsonHCG, said neurodiverse opportunities can vary by company, store, and store manager. She mentioned placing a few people at Walmart and many at Lowe’s. According to her, some store managers are very familiar with the process and any fixtures, while others are wary.

Walmart spokesman Jimmy Carter said the company does not have a special program designed to hire neurodiverse people. “We don’t ask for specific terms, but we aim to attract, hire and develop diverse talent from underrepresented communities, including neurodiverse people,” he said.

Go-Be’s Quinn hopes that with greater awareness, more neurodiverse people will find jobs. The current high unemployment rate “is alarming. Moving forward, I want to engage society in some way,” she said.

“These are all great opportunities to help them find purpose and they feel like when they wake up in the morning they have something to look forward to and they just feel like they are part of society and that they are doing their part.” ,” she added.

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