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Disabled Workers Fit Right in at Lowe's Distribution Center

"This isn't charity. It's about finding people with talent," says Steve Szilagyi, senior vice president of distribution at Lowe's.

The May issue of Distribution Center Management newsletter features an in-depth article on the secrets to integrating disabled workers at Lowe's new distribution center.

(Boonton, NJ, May 5, 2011) — After Walgreens won accolades for hiring significant numbers of disabled workers in its distribution centers, Steve Szilagyi wondered if his company, Lowe's, could do the same. As he began to study the idea, Szilagyi visited the Walgreens DC in Anderson, SC, where hundreds of disabled workers are employed.

"I was blown away by the culture and by what they were doing," says Szilagyi, senior vice president of distribution at Lowe's.

When Lowe's opened a new DC in Pittston, PA, the company committed to hiring workers with disabilities. In one example, a blind worker was so good at his job that he was quickly promoted to trainer.

Szilagyi can't point to any bottomline benefit to hiring people with disabilities. The workers earn the same pay as everyone else, and they're expected to meet the same performance levels. He sees the initiative as more of a psychic paycheck.

Through the process Szilagyi has learned several important lessons, which he discusses in the May issue of Distribution Center Management. Among them:

  • Don't lower your standards. You should have the same expectations for job performance for disabled workers.
  • But be flexible. Expectations are the same, but disabled workers might need more elaborate instructions or more accommodating processes. For example if the typical process is four steps, you might have to make it six.
  • Find good partners. Szilagyi suggests working with nonprofit groups to help identify and train workers. Make sure you and your partners have the same goal, namely putting disabled people in jobs where they can earn money and learn skills.

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