After several small, successful projects hiring disabled workers, Walgreens decided to go big at its advanced distribution center in Anderson, S.C., that opened in 2007. One-third of the workforce at this highly efficient DC have disabilities that range from deafness to autism to amputations.
One of the surprises that Walgreens learned was that the modest changes made in the design of the DC to accommodate people with physical and cognitive challenges also made other workers more productive, says Randy Lewis, senior vice president of supply chain. The program has since been rolled out to all of Walgreens' 20 DCs, and other companies are taking notice.
"We decided this is too good to keep to ourselves," says Lewis. "We want to pass on what we have learned to other companies, so we conduct lots of tours and we set up a program where companies can send someone to work with us for a week and where we provide a curriculum. Lots of companies have come. After seeing what we were doing. Best Buy opened a center in Louisville with 25 percent disabled employees. Lowes also is doing something.
"That's because it works," he says. "This is good citizenship. We get a good workforce and we change lives." The lives this program changes are not only those of the disabled workers that are hired, says Lewis. "This program has changed us. It has made us better managers, better parents, better friends, better citizens. It has given us an awareness and realization that we are all in this together and that brokenness is just a matter of degree. We are the ones that have been rewarded."
Lewis encourages companies to follow Walgreen's initiative and has one piece of advice: "You will look back and say this is the best thing you have ever done," he says. "I guarantee it."
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