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CVS Health: Drafting a Playbook for Success

Employer Case Study: Learn how CVS Health's Abilities in Abundance program leverages partnerships to support its disability-focused hiring initiatives.

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CVS Health

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From its early days as a neighborhood drug store, CVS Health has grown into a corporation that encompasses more than 9,900 retail locations and employs 300,000 people nationwide. In 2018, CVS Health acquired Aetna, moving closer toward a goal of transforming the total health and wellness experience of consumers. CVS Health has a mission of “Health with a Heart,” striving to improve health care, drive innovation and build healthy communities. It is with this last goal in mind that CVS Health is dedicated to creating a workforce that reflects the communities they serve, including people with disabilities.

Leadership at CVS Health saw an opportunity to meet critical talent shortages and further their mission to build strong, healthy communities. As a result, they dedicated resources and personnel to develop the Abilities in Abundance program, led by the CVS Health Workforce Initiatives Team. Rick Laferriere, Director of Workforce Initiatives at CVS Health, says, “We wanted to be a pharmacy retailer that attracted people who look like the communities we serve, and in many cases help them overcome some type of barrier to work...When looking at the talent within the disability community and how underserved they are, we saw a competitive advantage, and an opportunity to help people who have been forced onto the sidelines – we can pull them onto the field.”

Abilities in Abundance provides tools, training, job placement and support to people with disabilities, and creates a pathway to careers at CVS Health and elsewhere. The Workforce Initiatives Team designed a program that not only focuses on developing skills to meet talent needs at CVS Health, but also skills that are transferrable to other careers. The first step in the process was to create a team responsible for the initiative, and then to develop a network of community partners across the country.  Community partners complement the Abilities in Abundance program by assisting with pre-employment skills development, application and interview preparation, as well as job placement assistance.  Working closely with state Vocational Rehabilitation programs and other community-based agencies, the Abilities in Abundance program aims to develop a workforce for the future.

Top leadership at CVS Health saw the benefits of focusing on the pre-employment pipeline, and were willing to invest in a team dedicated to that purpose. Addressing barriers to implementation begins internally and must include a focus on executive buy-in, front line supervisors, Employee Resource Group members, Human Resources and diversity and inclusion professionals.

The Workforce Initiative team continuously works to educate hiring managers about the positive benefits of an inclusive workforce. Communicating and getting the word out is a constant challenge in an organization of its size. Buy-in from hiring managers and HR is gained by providing them with better talent, so they can see the benefits of inclusion firsthand.

As a result of their efforts, CVS Health has seen a reduction in turnover in key positions, and a reduction in costs associated with training new employees due to the pre-employment skills work. The employees that are hired through the Abilities in Abundance program have the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed. There has also been a positive impact on brand loyalty associated with the initiative, as the company is able to attract a share of the market that values representation of people with disabilities.

The initiative has been so successful that it has grown to include 50 simulation sites – mock stores jointly operated with community partners for the purpose of training. CVS Health also operates seven Workforce Innovation & Talent Center locations in Boston, New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, with more planned. The Talent Centers offer direct, hands-on learning, support and skill development from the Workforce Initiatives team and partners. Currently, 202 partners across the country provide services or education to people with disabilities in these sites, serving over 5,000 people with disabilities since 2012.

When it comes to return on investment, leaders want to see a positive impact on the bottom line which includes the benefits of tax savings and wage reimbursements that are sometimes offered for new employees with disabilities. But the ultimate bottom line for HR and hiring leaders is the quality of talent and the job preparation of candidates coming from Abilities in Abundance.  

The program is not designed to be a quick solution, but a long-term effective strategy to build a talent pipeline. The Workforce Initiatives Team knows that realizing a return on this investment takes time, because it’s largely built around strong relationship development activities. Work being done today will positively impact the company tomorrow. The Abilities in Abundance program has inspired change and driven innovation at CVS Health, and in the overall landscape of the employment service system. The program has improved the employment outlook for people with disabilities and business operations at the same time.  

CVS Health's efforts to create and support an inclusive workplace culture for people with disabilities earned the company the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) inaugural Excellence in Disability Inclusion (EDI) Gold Award in 2020. Administered jointly by DOL's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFFCP), the EDI Awards recognize federal contractors that excel in efforts to recruit, hire, retain and advance people with disabilities.