On April 21, 2021 a job coach came along to my place with two other colleagues from Achieva. My inclusion liaison, Barbara Graham, works with Giant Eagle to support the recruitment and higher level retention rates produced by the minds of job candidates with autism, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and many other intellectual disabilities. I was involved in the meeting and they immediately set up an interview for me. When it came to looking for a job, I thought or knew I had it planned.
After graduating from Pittsburgh Public School’s City Connections program, I spent two semesters learning about food safety when attending the Community College of Allegheny County for culinary school. I was lucky to attend the CCAC Food Service certificate training program in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic because many people couldn’t find jobs due to furloughs. I decided to apply for Giant Eagle. As I got to the interview, there weren't any worries for the need to disclose my disability. They’ve had the reasonable accommodations already in place. In this job offering process, the only focus was a tour around the store departments with available jobs. This isn’t a traditional interview, but I’ve spoken with HR managers questioning about what their offering. Before the orientation two weeks later, Giant Eagle quickly hired me to work as a Prepared Foods Team Member. My job coach provided me one week of additional training. The skillsets I’m responsible for in this job are: preparation, temperature food storage and product packaging.
In addition to a larger talent pool I bring to the table, special needs hiring programs also allow taxpayers to remove disabled people from public assistance and give these job candidates a chance to contribute to society. Giant Eagle’s purpose is about benefiting the overall health and well-being of coworkers, customer satisfaction, diversity, inclusion and how various minds and souls are there to empower society. I like working at Giant Eagle because my bosses understand me for who I am. I don’t get bored easily in individualistic tasks and my thoughts drives sustainability. Second, I might inherently be faster at packaging the food while weighing them. Third, I may be less prone to the ‘Gambler’s Fallacy,’ a belief that future probability changes are dependent on the past. An example is that after I complete a task on the boneless buffalo chicken wings, I expect that the next step is to be packing up the salmon meals until a coworker decides what I should do next.
According to Integrate Autism Employment Advisors and Drexel University, about 1.1 million teens with autism will age out of the public school system within the next 10 years. About 79% of young adults on the autistic spectrum are part-time employed averaging $9.11 per hour. While a growing number of businesses are providing job accessibility to this overlooked talent source, collaborative research for an intervention called “Cognitive Enhancement Therapy” is a potential breakthrough in improving the outcomes for autistic adults, out of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work and the Department of Psychiatry. The six-year study involved an 18- month randomized trial led by professor Shaun Eack, Ph.D. CET provides a faster thinking toolbox for people with impairments related to executive functioning such as: emotion regulation, decision making, planning and time management. The intervention is also effective among people with schizophrenia.
Giant Eagle has been reaching out to the disability community for more than 30 years. Beyond distribution centers, supermarkets and GetGo gas stations, the Pittsburgh-based grocery giant continues to extend their diversity and inclusion goals with experts from the National Organization on Disability. The company also reports a 95% retention rate among intellectually disabled employees and a perfect Disability Equality Index score as of 2022. Part of this is due to sustainability-driving thoughts and work motivation. Many who are sustained are doing well. We have seen a few other major corporations around the United States launching special needs hiring programs within the past ten years. Businesses such as: Walgreens, Freddie Mac, Microsoft, Kroger and Highmark are continually offering jobs to candidates who struggled with finding employment related to their disability.
In April 2015, Microsoft launched their autism hiring program in which has announced full-time positions with competitive pay at their Redmond-based offices, located about 15 miles east of Downtown Seattle. The company was flooded with thousands of emails and more than 700 resumes after the announcement. In the Steel City, eight employers have addressed a disability friendly work environment. That’s part of what makes Pittsburgh among the best cities for jobs. FedEx Ground, Tobii Dynavox, University of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County hired more than 350 young adults total as of 2018, since the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania launched its ‘21 and Able’ initiative. The program provides assistance from job coaches who are embedded with these employers. In 2013, a Pitt and Carnegie Mellon study drew conclusions that TSA baggage screening is an option for people with autism. The researchers were able to statistically demonstrate the ASD group staying more true to the tasks and the controls who get distracted easily, in an experiment known as the ‘Luggage Screening Task.’
I asked my inclusion liaison, Barbara Graham about her commitment with several important questions. Her reports show that between 2007 and 2013, she recruited 150 job candidates with special needs: 40% are employed by Giant Eagle, 52% are working for other businesses, and 8% are still looking for jobs. Four of the job candidates are graduates from the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ City Connections program.
The sky is the limit. Unlike going to school, the employment possibilities are endless. If you have an IDD diagnosis and are struggling to find a job, please call Achieva to schedule a supports meeting. You will be introduced to Giant Eagle’s onboarding programs recruiters and a job coach. They’ll book you a tour at any convenient location so that you can find an open hiring position. You’re welcome to work at our supermarkets!