Walgreens launches retail job training program for people with disabilities

DEERFIELD, Ill. — Walgreens on Monday launched its national Retail Employees with Disabilities Initiative, an in-store training program designed to help people with disabilities gain retail and customer service skills, that works closely with community organizations and vocational rehabilitation agencies to train and develop candidates.

Another similar initiative at Walgreens distribution centers resulted in 10% of the workforce being made up of people with disabilities at all levels across all 20 DCs. The company hopes to see the same success with REDI.

In 2010, the drug store chain piloted the REDI program in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, bringing together Walgreens store managers and job coaches funded by the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services to train candidates. After more than 200 trainees and 66% of REDI graduates were recommended for hire, the program grew to more than 150 stores throughout Texas, New York and Connecticut. To date, nearly 400 externs have completed training, and more than 46% have been employed by Walgreens or other retailers.

“We are committed to helping customers live well, stay well and get well, and to do that you need team members who are dedicated to excellent customer service,” stated Mark Wagner, Walgreens president of operations and community management. “This program highlights ability and gives candidates the tools to be successful in any retail setting. This is a meaningful program for everyone touched by the initiative. Already, one enthusiastic REDI graduate now working for Walgreens in New York was named Customer Service Employee of the Month, just three months after being hired.”

According to a 2012 Allsup disability study analysis based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities continues to be much higher than for those with no disabilities.

The first phase of REDI will begin in parts of Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin, with plans to reach all states by the end of 2013. Once a local agency is identified, there is a four-week training program, which takes place in up to five stores per district. The goal is to prepare qualified candidates for employment in store positions, as well as positions in any retail setting that requires similar skills. Responsibilities include cash register operations, customer service, merchandising, store inventory and maintaining store signage and displays.

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