Inside This Issue - Opinion
CVS, Home Depot get help from Kenís Krew
June 6th, 2011
by David Pinto
Sometime in the middle years of the 1990s, Ken Langone, a cofounder of Home Depot Inc. who has since become a legendary figure in U.S. entrepreneurial, business and financial circles, found himself in Philadelphia with some friends when he was introduced to a 16-year-old girl who suffered from Down syndrome.
Most people would have quickly dismissed that chance encounter as a momentarily moving diversion from the business of doing business. But Ken Langone is not most people. Indeed, his unprecedented success as a businessman has been built in large part on his compassion — and his personal involvement with the people with whom he does business.
So it was that Langone decided that he would like to help that Down syndrome child and, by extension, all young people with intellectual disabilities. To do so, he approached his friends at Home Depot, the retailer he had cofounded in 1978. He came to them with an irresistibly unique proposition, one that asked them to hire qualified young adults with special needs as hourly associates, provided that they had been trained to perform meaningful jobs.
Thus, in 1997 Ken’s Kids (the name was subsequently changed to Ken’s Krew), a nonprofit corporation dedicated to training and finding jobs for young adults, was born. Its mission statement is deceptively simple: to provide vocational training and job placement services for young adults with intellectual and learning disabilities who are transitioning into the workforce.
Beyond that objective is a complex organization that provides appropriate candidates of 18 years of age or older who have completed their high school education with increased independence, improved self-esteem, new social connections and an opportunity to be productive members of the community — through the simple expedient of finding them a meaningful job. At the same time, Langone’s corporation offers prospective employers a unique opportunity to diversify their workforce, which in turn can provide new avenues of innovation, productivity and corporate social responsibility.
To prepare these young adults for employment, Ken’s Krew — Langone insists he fought initial efforts to lend his name to the program, though he’s now privately pleased that his adversaries prevailed — employs a staff of vocational trainers. These professionals spend between eight and 12 weeks training each associate for the duties they are about to embark on, focusing on the unique abilities of each individual in an effort to match the skills and abilities of prospective employees to the needs of the organization. During the training period associates are paid by their prospective employers.
Throughout the training and employment period — the average employment tenure of the associates is four years, though some have been continuously employed for up to 12 — the parents of the young people enrolled in the program are active participants, fully supporting the requirements of both the employer and the program, Langone believing that parental support greatly enhances the chances of long-term success.
Not surprisingly, Home Depot has thus far been the biggest participant in — and beneficiary of — Ken’s Krew, having hired some 110 associates. CVS Caremark Corp. has been a serious participant, with 20 disadvantaged teenagers currently working at CVS stores in four states.
By all accounts, both Home Depot and CVS have been more than pleased with the contributions the Ken’s Krew employees have made to their companies.
Langone is equally pleased — for a variety of reasons. “You can’t measure the contributions these young adults have made,” he says. “They do real jobs — nothing special has been created for them, and no favoritism is shown them. And if they can’t do the job they’re hired for, or if they prove a disruptive influence, they are retrained or asked to leave. But neither of those situations has come up with any frequency.”
“Equally impressive,” Langone adds, “is the value these young people have brought to the retailers who have given them an opportunity. By providing them with meaningful jobs, we’ve given Home Depot and CVS a source of valuable and productive employees to which they would otherwise never have been exposed.”
Today, as the program approaches its 15th anniversary, it has achieved a level of success Langone could not have imagined when he first met that young lady in Philadelphia. Though he admits that he’d like to secure the participation of more retailers — something be believes will come as word of the project’s success spreads — he is more than gratified both with the success the program’s young participants have found in mainstream retailing and with the support he’s received from Home Depot and CVS.
“I truly believe that Home Depot and CVS are better companies today because of their involvement with our program,” he says. “They’re better for many reasons, but primary among them is the fact that the contributions from the young people they’ve hired have transformed the workplace.”