In keeping with its most recent large-scale efforts to make Laval the first autism-friendly city in the province, the city has partnered up with the Chambre de Commerce et de l’industrie de Laval (CCIL) to host renown conference speaker Randy Lewis as the keynote at a ground-breaking luncheon to be held at the end of January at the Palace Convention Center.

Lewis, who is known for his role in the early 2000s as Senior Vice President of supply chain and logistics for Walgreens distribution centers, now speaks at conferences nation-wide on the topic of inclusion and employability of individuals with disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum. Lewis also has a son who is on the spectrum. In 2002, Lewis was charged with the task of making the distribution centers more efficient. He wanted to do more than that; he wanted to create a system of inclusion whereby individuals with various disabilities could use their abilities to perform well in jobs that matched their skills sets. Lewis set out to demonstrate that businesses can expand and grow exponentially when employers and employees have a solid understanding of the employability and diverse talent of people with disabilities.

Lewis was able to create winning solutions and training systems for Walgreens as a company by employing individuals with various disabilities. Two brand new distribution centers were then built in the years that followed, which were entirely designed with the concept of inclusiveness in the workplace. According to Walgreens’ 2014 report on Diversity and Inclusion, which can be found on the company’s website, 50 per cent of one of the distribution centers’ workforce is made up of people with disabilities. The same report says that once the inclusion program was implemented on a large scale, the company saw a 120 per cent productivity increase. There are plans now underway to extend the inclusiveness program to retail outlets across the U.S.

Lewis, now retired from his Walgreens post, will be coming to Laval to speak about these experiences and to offer concrete inclusiveness strategies that business leaders in Laval can apply to their own businesses. “Our hope is that the event will raise awareness in the business community, and that some employers will come out of it with a serious intention to apply some of the strategies,” says Nick Katalifos, Chair of the board of directions of Giant Steps in Montreal. The event, which will be animated by TV personality Charles Lafortune, spokesperson for the City of Laval’s inclusion project, will include a panel of experts of researchers, employers, and employment service companies who will answer participants’ questions on inclusion projects in the workplace.

Thomas Henderson, Director General of Giant Steps in Montreal, says he wants the event to open up new horizons and ideas for the business community. “Services for people with autism tend to fall off in adulthood,” he says. “Finding and retaining jobs for people on the spectrum can be very challenging in Canada and North America.” Henderson hopes that the event will allow for more types of business industries to explore larger scale implementations of inclusive programs within their workforce. “Our hope is that we can at least plant seeds for those in the business community so that they can begin taking steps towards future employment for those on the spectrum,” says Henderson.

The City of Laval, Emploi Québec, the CCIL, Tourisme Laval and Autism Laval have all played a significant role in getting the event off the ground.“We see this as a win-win-win situation,” says David De Cotis, Vice-Mayor of Laval. “It’s a win for employees, a win for employers and a win for customers. We want business owners to come to the event and ask the right kind of questions.”

Geneviève Dufour, Director of Communications and Marketing at the CCIL, explains that Laval has a diversified pool of industries that can benefit from the talents of people with disabilities or on the spectrum. “The goal of this conference is to demystify this topic for employers, so that they can begin to see the possibilities and learn from a model that works, says Dufour.

Chantal Provost, President-Director General of the CCIL, believes that this event aids in fulfilling the CCIL’s mandate of offering services to business owners and employers that are informative and of interest. “This event will serve to broaden the horizons of the business community in Laval while at the same time spread awareness that there are other possibilities…that people on the spectrum can make for excellent employees,” says Provost.

Tickets are available through the CCIL’s website at $65 for members and $80 for non-members. The ticket price includes the lunch served during the conference.