Randy Lewis is the Senior Vice President of Logistics for Walgreens and the parent of a young man with autism who is currently planning his transition to adulthood. In recent years Walgreens has focused on hiring people with disabilities and specifically people with autism. In this interview Randy Lewis comments on the benefits of employment for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and specifically advice to individuals with ASD who are seeking employment.
Mr. Lewis, can you comment on why an employer should consider hiring a person with an autism spectrum disorder?
Why should somebody employ somebody with autism?
Mr. Lewis: Well, first the easy answer is, we found in our experience they make great employees. Although, every person is different there is a saying “once you have seen one person with autism, you have seen one person with autism.” But generally speaking our experience has been such that our attendance is better; we have less accidents; we have less turnover – something that every employer wants. Depending on the person, but generally people with autism have great focus, they follow the rules, if we ask them to report something when something happens they do that. The compliance, the focus, the dedication is something like we don’t see in a typically abled segment. So, if employers will take a chance and I think it is fear to overcome that because it is a differently abled person but they’ll find that they will get a good employee and they will become better managers because they will be able to see beyond the disability to see the person and that’s a gift for the employer.
What advice would you offer job seekers with ASD?
Mr. Lewis: For those with ASD seeking a job, I would try to get all skills possible for that job and try to learn what you can about the job. If you can get a variety of experiences where school systems help us or agencies help us to get these work experiences to learn what we like or don’t like, that’s the hardest thing. I know with my child, what does he want to do,? What would he be good at? You always hope that you can match up what he will be good at with what he enjoys - and that’s a difficulty within itself. As you approach the employment environment, I think one of the hardest things to do is to get past the application. A lot of these companies have psychological questions with subtleties that can be missed by a person with ASD. So, it is getting over the initial hurdle, past the application and once they set their focus on what can be done, what jobs can be done; everybody can contribute in some way and has a unique gift to bring and it is just trying to match that up and it is going to be hard but it is definitely worthwhile.
Given these tough economic times what advice can you offer agencies when approaching a potential employer?
Mr. Lewis: In tough times it’s always hard for anybody to get a job and especially for agencies; trying to find places to begin with, but I think by going in with employers and learning what the employer needs are, a lot of times agencies come in and say, “I’ve got these people can you hire them,?” they have little understanding of the needs of the job. The more the agency or provider can speak the language of the employer and match up to their client needs, they’ve demonstrated to the employer, “I understand your job.” “I have this person I believe will work there and oh, by the way we are ready to try this on an at risk basis, temporary basis or limited hours or with a job coach support;” to help that employer overcome all those impediments they are putting up in their mind: is this person going to be more difficult for me? Once I hire them if they don’t work out what do I do? The agency should help the employer go through all those things and recognize that there is no problem that they are going to have that can’t be solved; that’s what we’ve learned.