Those of you that happened to see ABC News this evening probably saw a pretty incredible story. A story about a company that has tapped into a workforce demographic that wants to work hard yet has a 44% unemployment rate. If you believe you can’t find workers for unskilled and semi-skilled jobs, think again.
At first glance, the Walgreens distribution center in Anderson, S.C., seems ordinary enough. But upon closer inspection, it’s anything but. More than 40 percent of the 700 workers here are disabled. Walgreens employee Julia Turner has Down’s Syndrome. Derrill Perry, who works right next to her, is mentally retarded. Garrick Tada has autism.
Not just line workers, but management staff.
Luann Bannister, one of their training supervisors, is in a wheelchair. Angela Mackey, who recruited most of them, has cerebral palsy.
It took the vision, and very personal experience, of a Walgreens executive to make it happen.
The quiet revolution happening in Anderson is the brainchild of Walgreens executive Randy Lewis, who has a 19-year-old son with autism. "As a parent, I saw the future and so the question is, given our position, what do we do about it? Maybe we could be an example, maybe we could use our position of leadership to try to change the work environment."
How does this workforce affect corporate productivity? Probably not how you think.
Lewis says the distribution center in Anderson is no less productive than others. In fact, Anderson is more productive. The training and technologies that help disabled workers do their jobs better help all employees do their jobs better, he said.
Luann Bannister observed, "It seems to be that a lot of corporate America tends to think you need to give someone with a disability an easier job. Everyone here is on equal ground."
Sure it takes more upfront effort and thought, but you are leveraging the capability of a very unique workforce.
"People come to me and say, will this work in my environment? Yes, it will. This is not just a good thing to do, the right thing to do. This is better," Lewis said. "When you walk through this building, there is a sense of purpose. Everybody knows why they’re here. Everybody helps each other. This has transformed the people that work here."
Truly, respect for people.