The value of community hiring programs for wholesalers

Helen Pappas

At its core, a company’s sustainability journey means planning and committing to create a sustainable, viable, future trajectory for the company. This journey often focuses on lowering energy and water usage, or promoting recycling, waste diversion and other typical “green” practices on-site.

For me, sustainability ultimately is much more than the surface “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” It encompasses the stewardship of our employees, our community and the environment, and creates value for our company in doing so. Our company’s initiatives and partnerships not only build the sustainability foundation of our business, but also make good business sense.

One unique way we look at sustainability, and apply it at Pete Pappas & Sons, is driving value for the company in areas that are often overlooked by other companies. Through this lens, we saw an opportunity to benefit our community and grow value in hiring at our company. Here’s how.

As wholesalers, one prevalent way we benefit our communities is through partnering with local nonprofits and donating food. This keeps unsold edible produce out of a local landfill and, instead, creates value in it as food for the community. Donation-based wholesaler relationships with nonprofits are straightforward, but can also offer greater sources of value.

Partnering with nonprofits can extend beyond food donations and involve hiring employees through specialized community programs. In a time when companies find it difficult to bolster their workforce and find new resources in hiring, local nonprofits can be a valuable asset. Pre-existing relationships with nonprofits are a great starting point that can lead to hyper-local hiring programs with candidates directly in your area.

A local Autism Hiring Program lets our company find employees who are recently trained, eager to work and grateful for the job opportunity.

Hiring is a major challenge facing many companies in our industry today. When we align our sustainability goals with community stewardship and beyond the scope of “reduce, reuse, and recycle,” opportunity knocks, and doors open.

In the community around Pete Pappas & Sons, we’ve built strong partnerships with nonprofit programs, including the Howard County Autism Society (HCAS). This local nonprofit, geared toward people with autism and their families, includes an Autism Hiring Program. This hiring program provides job training and builds job-related skills for adults with autism who want to enter the workforce but have been unable to secure a job themselves. The Autism Hiring Program matches student-candidates’ learned skillsets with open positions at local employers like us. This offers our company a unique opportunity to find employees who are recently trained, eager to work and grateful for the job opportunity.

As with any new endeavor, there can be some challenges when participating in a program like this. Here, the employer-nonprofit relationship is key in mitigating any possible miscommunication or misunderstandings. Our experience with the Howard County Autism Society directors and their hiring program has been both seamless and successful.

A candidate’s participation in the program gives the program coordinators hands-on and personal experiences with that student. This allows coordinators to give an accurate assessment of the skills participants possess, what opportunities for growth they have, and what job opening at our company would be the best fit. The coordinators have also thoroughly gotten to know our company and job opportunities, to give an honest and accurate job description to the potential new hires.

Our executives and HR department have supported our program participation since its onset, and one unique way we ensure success is by aligning incoming program graduates with a department supervisor familiar with autism and spectrum disorders. That supervisor is an integral support structure, and an important part of our company’s success with program graduates as new hires.

Just as HCAS does with us, the nonprofit or disability program you choose can help you ensure your office location and any accommodations needed or given are in line with ADA requirements. They can also ensure an appropriate match between candidates and your open positions, which is critical to the success of the candidate at your company.

The capability to bring in new candidates is an obvious benefit to our company, and disability hiring programs return community benefits by offering jobs to those who can be at a loss for hiring opportunities or overlooked due to the need for special accommodations at work. In this way, community involvement and leveraging nonprofit partnerships has aligned with our sustainability goals to find long-term and well-qualified employees from diverse employment pools.

We encourage others to seek opportunities in hiring like this. On this stewardship journey in sustainability, our participation in an Autism Hiring Program has brought wonderful new employees to our company as well as some unexpected bonuses — like getting featured on the local news during Disability Employment Awareness Month, and winning an Inclusive Employer Award from the Howard County Commission on Disabilities.

Helen Pappas is the director of marketing and sustainability at Pete Pappas and Sons, Jessup, MD, a fourth generation fresh produce grower and distributor. In 2022, as the company celebrates its 80th year in business, Helen made the industry’s 40 Under 40 list and garnered the company an impressive Maryland Sustainability Leadership Award.



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