Richard Kaplan, of Farmington Hills, chooses items off the shelf with the help of job coach Kavon Thompson, of Detroit, Aug. 29 at Jewish Vocational Services, 29699 Southfield Road. JVS recently launched a simulated supermarket program.

Richard Kaplan, of Farmington Hills, chooses items off the shelf with the help of job coach Kavon Thompson, of Detroit, Aug. 29 at Jewish Vocational Services, 29699 Southfield Road. JVS recently launched a simulated supermarket program.

Photo by Deb Jacques


JVS launches simulated supermarket training program

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published September 3, 2019

 James Willis, the vice president of rehabilitation and workforce training at JVS, poses in front of the shelves in the simulated supermarket.

James Willis, the vice president of rehabilitation and workforce training at JVS, poses in front of the shelves in the simulated supermarket.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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SOUTHFIELD — A local organization recently launched a training program to help people with disabilities reach their employment goals.

Jewish Vocational Services currently is training job seekers with disabilities in a simulated supermarket at its location on Southfield Road.

The trainees learn a number of skills, such as how to retrieve and read a customer’s shopping list on their phone, how to search aisles for items, how to weigh produce, and how to scan and bag items.

According to its website, JVS Human Services is a nonprofit group dedicated to helping metro Detroiters maximize their potential by providing counseling, training and supportive services for people with disabilities, job seekers, senior citizens and others in need.

James Willis, the vice president of rehabilitation and workforce training at JVS, said the program was born out of numerous requests from employers looking for individuals to perform order-picking tasks.

At the agency’s Detroit location on Woodward Avenue, JVS also launched a simulated warehouse sorting and fulfillment center that is also training individuals with disabilities.

“We first started with building the fulfillment center at our Detroit facility to provide our jobseekers to kind of get comfortable with that type of work — trying it out for a period of time and making sure they have an understanding of what would be involved,” Willis said. “That worked out so well (that) over the course of the last couple months we introduced grocery picking.”

Lydia Gray, the director of rehabilitation services at JVS, said that the staff tries to make the simulation as close to real life as possible.

“We provide them with a shopping list, and we even have a scanner like they do in the store,” Gray said. “Their job is to know what department that item would be in, and we have everything arranged by department. They have to scan the item and put it in the bag, and we’re looking for their accuracy in reading what it is the customer ordered and how they match it to what is on the shelf, and making sure they are bagging everything correctly.”

Willis said JVS works with Kroger, Meijer, Target and Whole Foods Market to train employees.

Kroger recently employed one of the simulated supermarket graduates, officials said.

“Kroger is proud to support and offer a bright future, filled with success, to individuals with disabilities,” Rachel Hurst, the corporate affairs manager of The Kroger Co. – Michigan Division, said in a prepared statement. “Inclusion has been a core value of our company for more than 100 years and still stands today. Every person has a special ability, and we know we can help them excel in their personal growth.”

“The participants are gaining a skill they could earn a living at and are learning where there are jobs available,” Gray said. “That all comes with the benefits of having a job  — personal benefit, financial benefit  — and working to be a productive part of the community.”

Willis said the program has had a lasting impact on the participants.

A man with a bilateral arm amputation recently came through the program at the Detroit location, and Willis said the program changed his life.

“He recently made the comment to one of our job trainers that this job has given him a reason to wake up in the morning and go about his day. He had been looking for a job for going on three years,” Willis said. “During those three years, he was depressed, frustrated and generally hopeless, and he decided to give this a try.”

To participate, Willis said, individuals must have a disability diagnosed by a doctor. To sign up or for more information, go to jvshumanservices.org.

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