Employing a special workforce
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from Convenience Store Decisions magazine.
VERC Enterprises Inc., an operator of 26 convenience stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, around the turn of the latest century began hiring workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and it’s paid off in various ways.
"We started about a dozen years ago and we set goals for our company — five percent, 10 percent and today we’re at 20 percent. So of 250-plus employees, about 20 percent consist of individuals with IDD," said Leo Vercollone, president and CEO. "And 20 percent is about the number because as we acquire stores and grow — and we grow about one store a year in the Boston market, we think that’s the right number — we work with them and make sure they can do the job properly and that we can oversee it properly."
The outreach program shouldn’t be confused with charity. Rather, it’s a unique component of VERC’s business plan that supports local residents with limited employment opportunities who want to work. IDD hires gain economic self-sufficiency and the ability to function independently.
"If you want to support the communities that you operate in, you have to support them financially so we support the churches, and the schools and the local police and fire, but you also have to support the residents, and some of these residents have issues, so you need to support them too," Mr. Vercollone said.
Potential IDD hires are vetted like all prospective applicants and many wind up becoming dedicated and capable employees. One IDD employee, John Burgess, just celebrated his 22nd year with the company. Another has ascended to the rank of assistant manager. Intangibles are tough to measure.
"It adds such a culture to our company because they are always smiling, they’re happy, they’re thrilled to be at work and that’s infectious because it relays over to how our other employees feel," said Barry Ahern, director of operations and human resources.
Besides publicly recognized by state officials, VERC has won "Best Place to Work in Massachusetts" and "Leader in Diversity" by the Boston Business Journal and was named as a "Best Place to Work in Massachusetts" by The Boston Globe.
Though some of VERC’s personnel concerns have been addressed via its strong partnerships with local nonprofits such as Best Buddies International and Minuteman Arc, the company hasn’t profited financially from its singular hiring program. Then again, it was never about money.
"It’s something that we want to do, and I think it’s one of the reasons our company has continued to grow and prosper because people in the community recognize it," Mr. Vercollone said.
How open are retailers in general to hiring people with IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities)? Should retailers be more open to IDD hires?