By Carolynn Brooks, Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer, OfficeMax

At OfficeMax we celebrate our commitment and focus on continuously striving to create a workforce that is diverse and inclusive. In 2009, we created an initiative to begin hiring associates with different abilities, the Veteran’s and People with Disabilities Initiative.

We wanted to provide candidates with different abilities a pre-training program in a safe environment where they can learn, at their own pace, the necessary skills to work in a distribution/logistics or retail environment to help determine the best career path for them and to open employment opportunities beyond OfficeMax.

Turning Point Autism Foundation, located in Naperville, Illinois, afforded us the first opportunity to develop the training curriculum and a pre-training program at their facility. There we learned firsthand how employment opportunities for people with disabilities aren’t just about us. This initiative gives hope to the candidates and their families, and demonstrates to a community how much can be accomplished if everyone is given a fair opportunity to succeed. I have found hiring people with disabilities has allowed us to tap into a talented pool of workers who bring unique experiences and understanding that provides OfficeMax with a distinct competitive advantage.

As we sought to expand our employment initiative we looked for other partners in our community who could support us and teach us what we needed to know. Organizations like Aspire, in the Chicagoland area, worked with us to improve our interviewing and hiring processes to help remove barriers for individuals with disabilities, and will house one of our pre-training centers, through the support from a Kessler Foundation grant that has provided funding to assist in the building of four of our pre-training centers. We have worked with Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VR), a national partner that provides a wide spectrum of support and resources at many of our locations across the U.S. With their support, OfficeMax has built an on-site pre-training environment at our McCalla, Alabama distribution center, and they have helped us hire more than thirty new associates in that location. By 2014, we plan to have additional pre-training environments in Columbus, Dallas, and Las Vegas.

We have received national recognition for the impact this initiative is having with people with disabilities, and as OfficeMax continues to move forward with our initiative we are extending our outreach to veterans and seeking other partners to help this program become a true gateway to employment.