The nation’s largest drugstore chain is dramatically increasing its efforts to hire people with disabilities.
Walgreens officials said they plan to implement a training program in every state by the end of 2013 that’s designed to help people with disabilities land jobs in the company’s retail stores.
The initiative is an expansion of a pilot program that began in Texas and currently operates at stores in New York and Connecticut as well.
Through the program, Walgreens partners with local disability service providers to identify and train prospective employees for jobs in retail environments. Upon successful completion of the program, individuals can apply for work at Walgreens or other retailers that rely on a similar skill set.
So far, 400 people with disabilities have participated in the training program, 46 percent of whom have subsequently been hired by Walgreens or other retailers, according to the company.
Walgreens plans to immediately expand its efforts to stores in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin. The rest of the country is expected to participate in the program by the end of next year.
In addition to the retail initiative, at least 10 percent of the workforce at each of Walgreens’ 20 distribution centers is already comprised of people with disabilities. The company is looking to achieve a similar inclusion rate in its stores.
Walgreens’ efforts to expand disability employment have become a model for other employers as well. Last year, Proctor & Gamble said it would follow in the drugstore’s footsteps when they announced that at least 30 percent of employees at a new packaging facility in Maine would be people with physical or developmental disabilities.
Disability advocates say efforts to increase hiring of those with special needs are much needed. As of April, the U.S. Department of Labor said that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was at 12.5 percent, significantly higher than the 8.1 percent rate faced by the general population.