VF Launches Disability Employment Program

Jan 08, 2020 Tags: Corporate news, Inclusion diversity

The initiative aims to expand our inclusion, improve lives and drive performance

  • A vast majority of adults with disabilities do not hold jobs because opportunities are rare.
  • VF is helping to change this and recently celebrated the launch of a new program through which adults with disabilities will be trained to work at our Jonestown distribution center in Pennsylvania.
  • An inaugural group of three to five trainees will begin orientation later this month in a simulation learning lab built especially for them on the floor of the Jonestown DC.

What started as a field trip to a Walgreens distribution center in South Carolina to find out first-hand how a disability employment program works has led to a new training program at VF.

“What we saw at the Walgreens distribution center left an indelible impression,” said Reggie Miller, Vice President, Global Inclusion and Diversity. “We were blown away by how it truly has improved the lives of adults with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities. We decided this was something we really wanted to do at VF and that there was no better place to do it than in Jonestown.”

Through a partnership with Springboard Consulting, VF designed the new program. We also connected with Viability, a nonprofit that helps source candidates, facilitates training and provides on-site job coaching.

After more than a year of planning, VF celebrated the launch of our own disability employment program Tuesday, Jan. 7 at the Jonestown distribution center, a 500,000-square-foot fulfillment center for Vans® and The North Face®. The center, which opened exactly one year ago, employs 150 full-time associates who serve the needs of retail and e-commerce on the East Coast.

Later this month, VF’s Jonestown associates will welcome a small group of newcomers for a nine-week orientation to learn about VF and how the distribution center operates. Most of that time will be spent in a new learning lab built especially for the trainees, a space that simulates the actual work environment at Jonestown.

“It’s an exact match of what they will do when they graduate in March, become full-time associates, go on the floor and do the job,” said Cole Hackert, Jonestown’s Director of Distribution. “But there's no pressure. It will give them an opportunity to make mistakes and feel comfortable with the environment when they actually get introduced to the rest of the team.”

Likewise, supervisors at the center will take part in training designed to help them successfully coach and manage associates with disabilities. VF’s long-term goal is to train 5-10% of its Jonestown workforce through the program.

Springboard CEO Nadine Vogel, herself a mother of two daughters with disabilities, predicted that over time the new associates will help the entire Jonestown operation become more productive than it already is.

“Individuals with disabilities typically have average to better-than-average attendance. Because of their disability, they tend to be quite innovative in how they do things. In terms of retention, they are extremely committed,” Nadine explained. “When you think about what companies in general look for today — employees who will stay, be innovative and committed — that is this group. Any organization benefits from diversity.”

That’s exactly what Reggie saw during his visit to Walgreens, where he met workers with disabilities such as Down syndrome and autism.

“There was an associate we met who was very gregarious, and we looked at his production levels and they were off the charts — like 150% of the standard. We learned that when the young man started work there he was nonverbal,” Reggie recalled.

“Here he was a few years later leading tours for executives like us who wanted to see the center. It was a beautiful thing to witness and it showed what we could do at VF. This is about hiring associates who will perform exceedingly well and create value.”