Walgreens hosts live Twitter chat around its new REDI program

DEERFIELD, Ill. — Walgreens on Wednesday afternoon hosted a live chat on Twitter regarding its newly launched national Retail Employees with Disabilities Initiative, an in-store training program designed to help people with disabilities gain retail employment, and how that program soon will expand.

The Twitter chat was retweeted across several employment agencies and companies that service persons with disabilities, including Big Tent Jobs, a recruiter that places "degreed pros" with disabilities and chronic conditions; Milwaukee's Independence First; the SSB BART Group in San Francisco; Richmond, Va.-based TecAccess, WORK Inc. in Dorchester, Mass., and the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center.

"Thank you for hiring people like me, have you been surprised by [the] productivity & work ethic [of persons with disabilities]?" one Twitter participant asked. "We are so impressed with performance and desire to be successful, 66% REDI grads recommended for hire. #walgreensREDI," answered @WAG_Deb, the Twitter account for Deb Russell, Walgreens' manager, outreach and employee services.

Walgreens is expanding its REDI initiative across Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin this year, with plans to reach all states by the end of 2013. As part of the process, Walgreens identifies a local agency that can help shepherd the project with a four-week training program.

The goal is to prepare qualified candidates for employment in store positions, as well as positions in any retail setting that requires similar skills. Responsibilities include cash register operations, customer service, merchandising, store inventory and maintaining store signage and displays.

Beyond training managers around how to best support and maintain motivation across an undertapped work force, Walgreens also identifies community agencies that can serve as life coaches where appropriate.

In 2010, Walgreens piloted the REDI program in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, bringing together Walgreens store managers and job coaches funded by the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services to train candidates. After more than 200 trainees and 66% of REDI graduates were recommended for hire, the program grew to more than 150 stores throughout Texas, New York and Connecticut. To date, nearly 400 externs have completed training, and more than 46% have been employed by Walgreens or other retailers.

"A final for @WalgreensNews [Walgreens' News Twitter feed]: More companies doing this equals more opportunity for people with disabilities!!!" tweeted @WAG_Deb at the conclusion of the chat session.