I recently attended Georgia Tech’s IMPACT Speaker series and got to hear a talk by retired Senior VP of Walgreens Randy Lewis. He had a very down-to-earth style of discourse and began his presentation with a photograph of his family. He has three adult children, one of whom has an autism diagnosis. He spoke plainly about his experience, the difficulties, and the pressing issues of being a parent of a child with special needs, namely the outlook for these individuals in terms of gainful employment; the picture he painted was dismal yet straightforward.
What followed was an inspirational look into the ways that Corporate America can influence labor trends while simultaneously fostering acceptance and accessibility for those living with a disability today. Lewis spearheaded an initiative within the company that began with a single distribution center actively hiring and training disabled job-seekers. He shared numerous anecdotes about his employees and how, with a focus on the individual rather than the bottom-line, this distribution center became one of the most productive company-wide.
They kept things in-house at first, with other distribution managers across the company coming to see and learn about the positive impact that this initiative was having; this led to setting targeted goals around hiring more disabled workers. Today, according to Lewis, workers with disabilities comprise 20% of the company’s workforce in their distribution centers across the board. In addition, the success that Walgreens saw due to this initiative got the ball rolling with other large corporate entities – Best Buy, At&t, UPS, and Lowe’s among others – that recognized the potential to emulate these results.
There was a Q&A portion of the talk, during which I introduced myself, my role at TCS, the nature of our work, and was able to direct the conversation to the potential for large companies engaged in this type of work to build bridges for their employees to reach goals in their personal lives, namely living independently. He agreed with me that it was a pressing issue and explained his opinion that providing gainful employment can allow for individuals to take ownership of these aspects in their own lives.
I am looking forward to seeing how the information from his talk can positively impact the work of TCS, specifically as a function of the transition work that we do.