At Worldport, UPS’ main air hub for global transportation in Louisville, KY., more than 10,000 union employees work to label, organize and ship freight that is sent out all over the world. For management, the need to hire and retain hard workers who are loyal to the company and bring a great attitude to the working environment is ongoing, as UPS’ business continues to expand.
Enter the Transitional Learning Center (TLC). TLC began at UPS in September 2014. Located within Worldport, TLC is a two-week training program designed for people with a range of disabilities including Down syndrome, autism and visual and hearing losses that simulates the work environment of hub employees.
Participants get both classroom training in work culture and socialization, and hands-on experience in a number of different jobs in the freight facility. The state-of-the-art training center includes a sort belter, a tractor-trailer and mock packages that make the transition to the real facility easier for the trainees.
TLC is a project of the Coalition For Workforce Diversity, a network of employers, service providers and others who work together to support people with disabilities seeking employment opportunities. The Coalition works to make the hiring, training and integration process as seamless as possible — so that employers feel no major change in current workflow processes. This support was essential in order for a company like UPS, where workflow production is continual and time sensitive, to commit to diversify its employees to include people with disabilities.
According to Scott Gregory, UPS Worldport training manager, TLC and the employees who have come out of the training have been a great success. UPS Worldport has hired 150 individuals with disabilities so far and continues to bring more people into TLC. Gregory emphasizes that the employees who finish TLC are qualified and hard working. He is now working with Options Unlimited, an organization that serves adults with disabilities in Kentucky, to find more potential TLC participants, in the hope of adding more employees with disabilities to the UPS workforce.
Gregory also notes how colleagues of the TLC graduates have responded to working side by side with them. He recalls a recent morning when a manager had gathered a team of employees for a pre-shift communication meeting — in which supervisors and workers have an opportunity to share what’s on their mind. One employee, who has Down syndrome, told his co-workers that he felt moved to lead the National Anthem and invited everyone to stand and sing with him. “It lifted everyone’s spirits to sing with them and truly got them ready for their day,” he says.
TLC has earned a distinguished honor for its dedication to inclusion in the workplace, as the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) named Worldport its “Large Employer of the Year.” The APSE is a national organization supporting the employment of individuals with disabilities; its vision is a world where “people with all types of disabilities are employed, pursuing careers and building assets just like people without disabilities.”
For many TLC graduates, the experience has been life changing. TLC graduate Michael Karimian, who works in the Wing Unload division of UPS Worldport says, “The TLC helped me realize that even though I have a disability, I can work. I love my job and I’ll do anything to help the TLC help other people understand that they can work, too.”