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Success Stories about hiring of people with disabilities

How disabled workers enable Walgreens distribution

The retailer's new distribution center in Anderson, S.C., uses bar code scanners and specialized operator interfaces for inventory management, but the real success story is the people the facility employs.

By Tom Andel, Editor in chief -- Modern Materials Handling, 8/8/2007

Randy Lewis is living the fable of “Stone Soup.” In the story, a poor traveler fools stingy villagers into adding delicious ingredients to his stone-filled pot and before they know it, the village has collaborated in creating a feast. In Lewis’s case, instead of using stones, he’s using materials handling technology.

Lewis is senior vice president of distribution and logistics at Walgreens. The chain just opened a new $175 million distribution center in Anderson, S.C., and while the 670,000 square facility uses bar code scanners and specialized operator interfaces for inventory management, the real success story is the people the facility employs.

Lewis uses technology as the stone in his soup to draw people to the rich potential for employing people with disabilities. He wants to turn the widespread captivation with technology into an adoption of a humanitarian philosophy.

It’s a successful recipe:

“Technology is not the story here, although the things we did made operations better,” Lewis says. “With these workers we have the lowest turnover and less absenteeism, and there are a lot of other rational arguments you can make. We opened our doors to our top suppliers. They were expecting to learn all about technology. I showed them a workforce that could perform just as well if not better than those without disabilities.”

Employees at this Walgreens facility use touch-screens that display icons and workstations are ergonomically designed to the workers’ range of motion. While not all Walgreens’ facilities use the same technology, all of them employ people of varying abilities, including those with autism and cerebral palsy.

The company will use this as a blueprint for new DCs. Their next will be a duplicate of the one in Anderson, and opens in Hartford, Conn., the first quarter of 2009. Lewis says his site selection process will take into account how well a potential community supports this special population.

Jim Tompkins, president and CEO of Tompkins Associates, a leading supply chain consulting firm, agrees there’s a big future in materials handling for people with different ranges of abilities. Tompkins just participated in the 2007 Material Handling and Logistics Summit held last month. Among the big-picture agenda items discussed by the more than 30 academics, end users, industry consultants and providers attending was “developing the workforce of the future for distribution, warehousing and manufacturing.”

Tompkins is convinced there’s an important role for senior citizens, the disabled, and a variety of others who have not been successful finding employment. Unfortunately, he fears that prejudice still prevails in many instances.
“I’m seeing is a lot of lip service,” he says. “What a shame more companies aren’t doing [what Walgreens is.] Underemployed people often turn out to be very loyal. You don’t have turnover or absenteeism and they take pride in their work. Plus, pick-to-light or put-to-light technology is conducive to employing handicapped in that environment.”

Lewis offers these tips to help you make some “stone soup” of your own:

Source: http://www.mmh.com/article/CA6466542.html