Grocer Sees the Light in Hiring Employees With Disabilities

Raley's has successfully fostered an inclusive workplace for decades
PRIDE Industries Darelyn Padzel Headshot
Raley's Angie Rao Main Image
Angie Rao has worked as a courtesy clerk at Raley's for 32 years.

A persistent labor shortage and renewed expectations of workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are driving grocery stores to look beyond traditional talent pools. They can learn from Raley’s, a California chain that has found hidden treasures by hiring people with disabilities.

Raley’s has quietly fostered an inclusive workforce for decades, including hiring, training  and managing employees with various physical and intellectual disabilities. We are proud to employ people who encompass different cultures, abilities, races and ethnicities and represent the diverse communities we serve, the company’s website says.

[Read more: "Execs at Kroger, Giant Eagle and Wakefern Headline GroceryTech Panel on Recruitment and Retention"]

Angie’s Story: The Morning Light

For example, Angela Angie Rao, who has a developmental disability, has worked for the company as a courtesy clerk for 32 years.

When I started, there were no computers, Angie said. You wrote down your shift requests and recorded your hours on little pieces of paper. As the role of technology has grown in the business, Angie has grown with it.

I call her my morning light,” said Danielle Bergmann, store team leader at the Carmichael, Calif., Bel Air Market, one of Raley’s banners. She’s probably one of the top five courtesy clerks I’ve ever had. That’s saying a lot, as Bergmann has worked for the company for 28 years. She’s on time, eager to work, she has a smile for everyone, and the customers love her to the point of asking about her if she’s not there
one day.

25% of the Population

Some 61 million Americans, or one in four adults, live with at least one disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The employment rate for this population has been stubbornly low, at about 30%-40%, compared with 70%-80% for non-disabled workers.

With 87% of retailers worried about talent shortages, their third-biggest business risk after supply chain and inflation worries, new talent pools should be good news. Grocery retailers can’t find the people they want for the jobs they need, and some workers are leaving, analysts at McKinsey wrote, citing statistics from Fourth. For an industry driven by people, the challenge is enormous.

Misconceptions keep retailers and employers from turning to people with disabilities to address labor shortages. The Society for Human Resources Managers (SHRM) cites three myths that must be busted:

  1. People with disabilities aren’t qualified applicants.
  2. Reasonable accommodation is expensive.
  3. Managers can’t expect the same level of performance from employees with disabilities.

Busting Myths About Hiring People With Disabilities

Hiring someone with a disability is not much different than hiring anybody, Bergmann said. You find out what they are good at, what they like and train them when you see gaps in their abilities.

Speaking of training, now Angie helps trains new courtesy clerks, whom she calls the new kids.

There’s nothing job-related that I wouldn’t ask Angie to do, said Assistant Store Team Leader Michelle Budd. If anything, she works harder than others, and I know I can count on her.

When I said she is a light, I meant it," Bergmann said. Angie excels at customer service, and that’s hard to teach. She is a role model for new courtesy clerks, leading by example.

Customer service is crucial in a competitive environment where shoppers have their choice of markets. People often think of grocery shopping as a chore, and friendly, proactive service that makes shopping pleasant builds loyalty, Budd said.

Raley’s hired Angie through a partnership with PRIDE Industries, which worked with her out of high school to become job-ready, and then launched her into Raley’s training program — at the time, the company had dedicated stores for training. Over the years, PRIDE Industries has placed scores of employees with Raley’s.

PRIDE Industries also provides job coaches to ensure employees with disabilities have everything they need. Angie’s been doing this for so long and is so good at her job that she doesn't need much support, said coach Roshanna Pellini. I’m more of a friend to help her advocate for herself.

Let’s take another look at those three myths SHRM mentioned that deter employers from hiring people with disabilities. Not qualified for the job? Is accommodation too expensive? Employees can’t perform? Busted. Busted. Busted.

First Jobs and Forever Jobs

Raley’s also has a long history of being a first job for young people, but finding candidates is harder than ever.

We love to see people blossom here, whether they stay for a year or two or decades and
into retirement, Bergmann said. But finding entry-level employees has been harder since the pandemic, and some have gotten used to living with parents and just don’t see a need to work. We need more Angies.

About the Author

Darelyn Padzel

Darelyn Padzel is the acting director of workforce inclusion at PRIDE Industries, the nation’s leading employer of people with disabilities.
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