Modified interview process could serve as a model for employing people with disabilities
Tom Charley, of the Charley Family Shop’n Save stores, doesn’t see hiring employees with physical and mental disabilities as charity.
“Sure, it’s good for them to be out with the public and interacting with people, but they’re also performing a service and doing a job for us,” he said.
That job — in this case, cashier — is something Blake Ritter, 18, of Murrysville is perfectly capable of doing.
It was the interview process that was tripping him up, and he wasn’t alone.
“We’d been working with a couple other businesses trying to get jobs for three kids,” said Michelle Longo, transition coordinator and learning-support teacher at Franklin Regional Senior High School. “Every time we went to an interview, they weren’t getting the job, and it was because of the way the interview was conducted.”
By working with Charley Family Shop’n Save, which employs disabled workers at all of its stores, Longo was able to build some flexibility into both the interview and training process, and thinks it could serve as a model for other companies in working with disabled individuals.
Last school year, Blake worked one period a day at the Charley Family Shop’n Save, as well as at Ferri’s, the county food bank and Walker’s Pet Ho-Tail in Murrysville.
“Michelle said she had an interview for Blake, and I said that was great, but I wasn’t sure how it would go,” said Blake’s father Paul Ritter.
Longo had expressed her frustration to a Shop’n Save employee, and asked if they would be willing to make the interview more of a conversation.
“Making Blake feel comfortable was really key,” Longo said. “He’s an amazing worker, and their flexibility in letting me explain what would and wouldn’t work was really important in getting Blake to engage.”
Instead of a traditional interview question — asking a job candidate to explain his or her strengths, for example — “they sort of let him talk and tell them how he enjoyed working there,” Longo said.
Charley said Shop’n Save administrators were happy to work with Longo and Blake.
“We try to make the interview process fair to the person we’re talking with,” Charley said. “We tried to facilitate a realistic experience. We wanted to make it easy for Blake to understand what we were asking of him, and we tried to make it a comfortable experience.”
Blake’s father was a little apprehensive at first.
“This is a whole new thing,” he said. “He’s interacting with the general public. And to have the school district implement a program like this is truly a godsend. He has an opportunity now to not only perform a function in society that has value, but he can draw from that and has a chance to interact with people in the community.”
Longo was able to accompany Blake to training sessions, and worked side-by-side with him at the cash register for about three weeks.
“Michelle came up with a token system for when he’d say something nice to a customer,” Ritter said. “And at the end of the day, he’d get a reward based on the number of tokens.”
Charley said Shop’n Save staff also encourages Blake to interact with shoppers.
“We give him some notes on talking with customers, like things to say when a customer is leaving, that sort of thing,” he said. “Blake’s a great kid.”
Longo knows plenty of other great kids, and is hopeful that Blake’s experience can serve as both an inspiration and a model for other employers.
“I’ve run into three other companies in the area that were not willing to change the (interview) process,” she said. “My goal for this whole thing was to spotlight the process and the way these interviews can be conducted. Because these companies will get people who show up every day, put the time in and do the work.”
Ritter said he’s amazed at how the job has positively affected Blake.
“It warms my heart to think how this community has accepted my son because of this vocation,” he said. “There are times I’ll go to the store and I don’t tell Blake. I’ll just watch him interact with people and watch them approach him.”
Blake’s stepmother JoAnn said all he needed was the chance to prove himself.
“He can do the job,” she said. “It took a little while longer to train him, but he can do the work now just like anyone else.”
And unlike last year, Blake is now on the payroll.
“I just like getting my work done,” he said. “And I like that I’m getting paid.”
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.