Starbucks Largest Roasting Plant Offers Job Training for People With Disabilities

From the Starbucks Newsroom

When Carol Glazer visited Starbucks headquarters in Seattle last fall to meet graduates from a unique training program at the company’s roasting plant in Carson City, Nevada, she wasn’t surprised to see pride in the faces of those who’d completed the course. What caught her off guard was the gratification she saw in the faces of everyone who encountered the grads.

Glazer, President of the National Organization on Disability since 2008, has been pushing for allies in its efforts to address a severe shortage of work opportunities for people with disabilities. In Starbucks, she believes she’s found a company that appreciates the payoff that comes with employing workers with disabilities.

“Starbucks is the beacon for others in corporate America,” she said. “There are a few companies that are pioneers in this field and Starbucks is one of them. Companies are beginning to understand that all the problem-solving skills and tenacity and persistence it takes to navigate a world that wasn’t built for you are terrific assets.”

York’s First Graduating Class

Glazer will be among those honoring graduates of the Starbucks Inclusion Academy today in York, Pennsylvania, at a ceremony commemorating the roasting plant and distribution center’s 20th anniversary. There, alongside Starbucks leaders and local, state and national dignitaries, she’ll meet the first four graduates from York’s academy. They join 21 others who’ve completed the program, including a dozen who work full-time at the Starbucks facility in Carson City.

Eric Brooks, who’s been receiving disability payments since January 2009 due to an injury and heart condition, was alerted to the opportunity by the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, which partnered with Starbucks, the National Organization on Disability and the Crispus Attucks Association of York to develop the six-week program. Though he’d just received a job offer elsewhere, Brooks consulted with family and friends and decided to pursue what he saw as a more promising path.

“The Inclusion Academy sounded like a real chance,” said the 38-year-old York resident. “Even though it wasn’t necessarily a permanent position, I decided to go with the Inclusion Academy and I don’t regret it at all.”

For Cody Dietz, completing the program is a milestone in a seven-year recovery effort that began after he suffered a massive stroke when he was 17.

“I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t talk. I had to learn everything over,” Dietz said. “Now I’m better. I’m working, obviously. I’ve had struggles sometimes, but I’ve overcome them. I’m here.”

A Model Program

Noting that less than 20 percent of the approximately 30 million Americans with disabilities who are of working age are actually on the job, Glazer said the Inclusion Academy provides a model for how companies can find underutilized talent.

“The best connections occur when there’s a gradual process of training—of orienting a future employee to the cultural norms and the expectations and basic requirements of the employer,” Glazer said.

“The academy is an innovative approach to bringing on board a number of people with disabilities and making sure that the experience succeeds—from the company’s perspective. All the bottom-line measures apply: Are they productive? Do they have a good safety record? Can they learn new skills? Can they thrive in the corporate culture?

With the Inclusion Academy behind them, Brooks and Dietz look ahead to the Starbucks interview process differently. The former is full of self-assurance while the latter confessed to some butterflies. “I’m a little nervous,” said Dietz, “but I have confidence in myself.”

For her part, Glazer believes the Inclusion Academy’s ongoing success will help to break down formidable barriers that have stood for too long.

“We always say, when you’re hiring people with disabilities, it’s not the ‘what’ that you expect to be different. You expect the same performance and productivity and output. It’s the ‘how’ that’s different. The how you train and even how you interview,” she said. “The fact that Starbucks is doing this is going to make our job a lot easier in finding employers who are going to try this. Employers who know this is important, but don’t know how do it.” 

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In the world of retail, copycat pricing is not unusual. When one retailer slashes prices, others are sure to follow. When it comes to hiring approaches, those of us in the business of finding employment opportunities for people with disabilities, we’re hoping that same copycat approach holds true, particularly when one of the retailers that is taking the lead is Starbucks. The company that revolutionized the way we drink coffee could very well do the same for how corporate America hires and cultivates talent.

In a race for talent, companies are now realizing that people with disabilities are a largely untapped pool that, as a result, has seen unemployment rates remain stubbornly high when compared to the general population. So when an employer the size of Starbucks plants a flag and says it is going to make this a priority, others are likely to follow.