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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

In Their Own Words: Employer Perspectives on Youth with Disabilities in the Workplace

Keeping Stock of Personnel Needs:

by Grace Louie

Safeway is one of the largest food and drug retailers in North America. At year-end 2000, the company operated 1,688 stores in the western, southwestern, Rocky Mountain, and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States and in western Canada. In support of its stores, Safeway has an extensive network of distribution, manufacturing, and food processing facilities.

Safeway and Diversity

Safeway has many training and development programs in place that can help our employees establish successful careers in the grocery industry. From new-hire orientation to our Retail Leadership Development program and other programs that provide training from specific job duties to leadership and supervisory skills, we pride ourselves on strengthening our workforce and giving all of our employees the opportunity for advancement. Our strong belief in the value of diversity provides a firm foundation for our long-standing commitment to equal opportunity employment. Safeway does not view equal employment opportunity as “hiring a person with a disability.” We are a very diverse company and an equal opportunity employer. The important thing is: Can you get the job done?

My first exposure to people with disabilities was when I first became a Safeway store manager back in 1993. There was a regular customer who worked with young people with disabilities. Over time, we got to know each other. She put me in touch with an organization that worked with people with disabilities and the relationship began.

The first agency I worked with was The Arc. This gave me the opportunity to locate and interview students who could be successful in the workplace, whom I may not have otherwise encountered. I learned of the Bridges…From School to Work program shortly after this and have been getting a supply of excellent labor because of this organization’s reputation and the caliber of young people who participate.

When I was transferred to another Safeway store in 1999, I was having difficulty hiring qualified and responsible employees. I sought out Bridges as a resource for potential hires. This proved to be a fruitful collaboration. I have also collaborated with The Arc as a resource for referrals. Because of my positive experience hiring youth with disabilities through the support of these agencies, I want to take advantage of this hiring avenue to find qualified referrals for Safeway.

Open Access for Students With Disabilities at Safeway

At the Diamond Heights Safeway, currently 10 youth with disabilities are employed who receive training and full wages. Over the years I have hired 13 youth with disabilities, three of whom continue to be long-standing employees. I do not want these individuals to be treated differently, but I do tend to pay more attention to whether they need support with new tasks. It is important to set these young people up for success and provide supports wherever possible without compromising hiring practices or employment expectations. As a result, as part of the hiring process, I have allowed agency staff who serve these individuals to sit in on the interview. In addition to entry-level work opportunities, we also provide a wide range of training events:

  • Students attend detailed and informative store tours and a safety lecture;
  • Students are enrolled with the clerks’ union;
  • Students attend customer-service lectures; and
  • Students attend in-store orientations.

Generally, disabilities are not discussed as an issue with co-workers. The expectation is that people adjust and learn to work with diverse groups of people. If there is a situation that arises, and an employee is having difficulty adjusting, we will bring in agency support, provide staff with a general sense of the situation without specifics, and ask for staff assistance to help make the student’s transition more successful.

I have designated some front-line staff and supervisors who are aware of some of the special support needs that some students may have. I try to encourage my supervisors to be patient with the student workers. In addition to specific skill training, students learn and establish strong customer relations and effective employee behaviors that are necessary for success as an entry-level worker. I try to recognize each student’s abilities and potential and work with them at their pace. We try to make students feel comfortable and understand the job responsibility and the perks that go along with employment, such as money and benefits. I have found that the students with disabilities I have hired learn responsibility and accountability. Our successful partnership with Bridges works well for everyone involved.

Support Strategies and Success

We have a good working relationship with the employer representatives from Bridges and the support staff from The Arc. It is very important for representatives to develop relationships and a level of trust with companies. For example, it is important that employees are prescreened and prepped for job expectations and the hiring process, which includes interviews, orientation, and training. Employees must be capable. Agency staff play an active role in recommending candidates for work. They assist these potential employees with acquiring the knowledge to perform well and maintain employment. The agency contact needs to know what the job entails and provide extra coaching as necessary. This includes assisting with explanations, reinforcement, and follow-through regarding policies and procedures such as attendance, absences, etc.

For safety issues and accountability, it helps to have open lines of communication with counselors and parents. To make the job a success, we need dedication from the employee, the employer representative, and our staff. For example, there is a young man who has worked at the store for the past two years. His Bridges employer representative proactively approached Safeway before he started the job to identify his job tasks and responsibilities. This helped make a match between his interests and our needs. He now works in the bread department, stocking shelves and removing unsold bread. He uses a computerized pricing system. His responsibilities are expanding, and he will eventually be accountable for the bread department “sell-through”—the sales increase and decrease. With patience and perseverance, he, his supervisor, and co-workers have achieved a successful and productive team effort.

We place importance on job retention. When we encounter difficulties with an individual, we try to involve the counselor in order to resolve the issue and to avoid termination. When employees do not adhere to policies, this requires close contact with agencies and enforcement of normal consequences associated with such actions. We try very hard to work with people without jeopardizing the integrity of the company.

This experience has made me much more open to considering potential employees with disabilities who are not involved in Bridges or The Arc programs. As long as there is a support person available, there is no reason these individuals cannot be successful. A support person does not necessarily need to come from an agency that focuses on job support, but can be a counselor involved in other areas of the person’s life who also assists with job placement issues. It could be a parent or even a “house mother.” The important factor is that the employer have a support network available as a resource for helping the young person succeed on the job.

Most of all, we ask that the agency representative send us people who want to work and want to do a good job with minimal supervision once they are acclimated. We give proactive suggestions, and we appreciate involvement from the employer representative. Having the support agency involved makes our job a lot easier.

Grace Louie has been Store Manager for the Diamond Heights Safeway in San Francisco, CA, since 1999. She has worked for Safeway for the past 24 years. For her initiative to hire, train, and supervise successful work experiences for youth with disabilities, Safeway received the 2001 Employer of the Year Award from the Marriott Foundation Bridges… From School to Work program.

Table of Contents

Cover Page


Publish or Perish: Macworld Magazine by Shelly Ginenthal

Reaching Out to Youth: Microsoft Corporation by Mylene Padolina

Boosting the High Tech Workforce: Kennedy Space Center, NASA by Cassandra Black

Finding Premium Volunteers: Port Discovery by Leah Burke

Investigating Human Resource Options: American Institute for Cancer Research by John McIlveen

Manufacturing & Production Technician Youth Apprentices: Generac Portable Products Corporation by Bob Hurd

Infrastructure for Success: Kemtah Group, Inc. by Keith Harris

Quality Products, Quality Employees: Medtronic Physio-Control by LaDrene Coyne

Searching for a Reliable Workforce: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center by J. Erin Riehle

Keeping Stock of Personnel Needs: Safeway by Grace Louie

Brokering Achievement: Old Colony Insurance Service, Inc. by S. Brooks May, Jr.

Summary & Conclusion

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Citation: Luecking, R., Ed. (2004). Essential tools: In their own words: Employer perspectives on youth with disabilities in the workplace. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition.

Permission is granted to duplicate this publication in its entirety or portions thereof. Upon request, this publication will be made available in alternative formats. For additional copies of this publication, or to request an alternate format, please contact: Institute on Community Integration Publications Office, 109 Pattee Hall, 150 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455, (612) 624-4512, icipub@umn.edu.

This document was published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred. The University of Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition are equal opportunity employers and educators.