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CVS Training Centers Simulate Pharmacy Work for People with Disabilities

A man holding a plaque.
Kaylee Merrick is a graduate of CVS Health's training center in Fishersville, Va. (Photo credit: ​Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services).

It looks like a real CVS Pharmacy, though you can't get your prescription filled there. But soon, one of the trainees in this mock store may be working at a CVS near you.

CVS Health has set up more than 30 job-training centers around the country to help people with physical, developmental or intellectual disabilities prepare for full-time employment in retail and pharmacy-technician careers.

Kaylee Merrick graduated from one of the company's newest training centers, located in Fishersville, Va. She has anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, short- and long-term memory loss, attention deficit disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. And now she is a cashier and stock clerk at a CVS store in Stafford, Va. She landed the job five months after becoming one of the Fishersville program's first graduates in 2016.

Merrick, 24, said the training center helped her develop customer service skills. But she prefers the busy atmosphere of a real store, where she works 20 to 30 hours each week.

"I love interacting with people, even the grumpy ones I try to get to smile," Merrick said.

She also likes the variety of tasks in her job, which go beyond stocking shelves, helping customers locate items and ringing up their purchases.

"So many people think we're just [working as] a cashier, but no. I even unstuck the toilets in the back and take the trash out, which I have no worries about. I vacuumed the floor last night."

Helping People with Disabilities Prepare for Jobs

CVS operates its mock pharmacies in partnership with state and local agencies, but the Fishersville site was the first it developed with the National Consortium of State-Operated Comprehensive Rehabilitation Centers. Since that program launched, 41 students have completed training, and 11 have been hired by CVS Pharmacy. Two other training centers opened in 2017 in Johnstown, Pa., and Hot Springs, Ark. Five more are planned to open this year in Baltimore; Plainwell, Mich.; Smyrna, Tenn.; Thelma, Ky.; and Warm Springs, Ga.

"All of our mock pharmacies are in partnership with a third-party organization—which helps us identify, train and educate our participants—and all of our partners are trained on what skills are needed so they can work with the [job] candidates to prepare them to work in the community," according to David Casey, CVS Health vice president of workforce strategies and chief diversity officer.

The partnerships expose students to many different employment opportunities in addition to those at CVS, he added.

The unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities was 10.5 percent in 2016, about twice that of those with no disability (4.6 percent), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Although nearly half of all people with a disability are age 65 or older, "across all age groups, persons with a disability were much less likely to be employed than those with no disability," the BLS noted.

Casey believes the CVS initiative is changing that.

"Our collaborations result in highly successful skills development programs, job training and placement opportunities for individuals," Casey said. "Skilled, productive workers with disabilities can be brought successfully into the workforce and can make extraordinary contributions to our economy and our society."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Accommodating Employees' Disabilities]

How It Works

Students typically range in age from 18 to 26, but there is no age limit, according to CVS. The program usually is made up of six to eight students who live with roommates in dormitories on a rehabilitation center's campus. Merrick, for example, lived on the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center campus in Fishersville until graduation.

The program lasts about nine weeks. The curriculum comprises 40 lessons that include soft skills such as phone etiquette, collaboration and the ability to complete hiring-related paperwork. That is followed by hands-on classroom experience at the mock store stocked with CVS products, prescriptions and signage to replicate the employment experience. There students learn retail techniques such as "fronting"—placing products toward the front of shelves to make them easier for customers to find—practice using a cash register and become familiar with reading labels. They use customer service techniques like the "GOT" method of greeting, offering help and thanking customers.

"CVS is very customer service-focused and -centered and that's wonderful for our students to learn, no matter where they're working," said Kaitlyn Treadwell, an instructor for the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services.

Students serve a six-week internship at a CVS Pharmacy and return to the rehabilitation center for one week of instruction on how to complete an online job application and assessment. Completing the program does not guarantee employment but is viewed as more of a job try-out.

It worked for Merrick.

She dreams of becoming a shift supervisor and eventually a manager at her store while she saves money to go to school to become a masseuse.

"I love my job, I love the people I work with, I love CVS. They treat me so well. It's basically family, you know?"

Hear more from Merrick in a podcast with Vocational Rehabilitation's Workforce Studio.


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