National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
In Their Own Words: Employer Perspectives on Youth with Disabilities in
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
- 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
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.
598K, 40 pages
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.
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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.