The Staples Distribution Center in Arden Hills is the second most productive in the nation. On a typical day, more than 5,000 orders are filled and shipped, usually error-free. Operations manager Steve Lilly attributes this success to people like Allen Shepherd. Shepherd has been working at the location for five years and has been promoted four times, from a heavily supervised four-person cleaning crew to a two-person assignment with minimal supervision, then to cleaning on his own and finally to his current position.
“I make all the boxes, tape them, and ship them to different lines to put the orders in,” Shepherd explained. He also matches each box with a shipping label and makes sure that the box winds up where it needs to be based on its assigned priority.
“We see it very much as a promotion,” Lilly said. “It’s a key position. It’s setting up our associates to do their jobs.”
Shepherd is one of 25 people at the Staples Distribution Center who are officially employees of TSE, Inc., a nonprofit in St. Paul that supports people with developmental and other intellectual disabilities. When Lilly started managing the Arden Hills center in 2003, there were two TSE employees making boxes. “Since then, at every opportunity, we say ‘Can we work this into TSE?’” Lilly said. “The support they have for the people onsite, the support they’ve given us to make sure everyone was comfortable and can do the role — it’s the old Staples tagline: ‘That was easy.’”
Lilly noted that while Shepherd is the first to touch the carton, another TSE employee is the last. “Matching the person to the job is the key. TSE has always been able to handle that. It works really well with our set-up. We’re a small operation. It fits with the character of the organization here. It’s become integral to it,” Lilly said.
Each of Shepherd’s promotions has come with an increase in pay. His current position also comes with sick leave and paid vacation time, “but I don’t use it,” Shepherd said. He likes having just one job, instead of up to 12 “little part-time jobs,” which he had in the past. But the best reason for getting promoted, he said, is, “I’m trying to prove to myself that I can do it. And to prove it to other people. I’ve been tested, they say I’m not able to do all this stuff. I want to prove them wrong.”
Is it scary when you move into a new role with new responsibilities?
It’s like I’m scared but once I get over it, I’m fine. It’s a process, talking to myself, saying I could do it. Sometimes I start putting myself down, then I roll it over to thinking about the positives.
What are the challenges?
People here are good to me. Sometimes I’m embarrassed to tell them I can’t read or write very well. I start out memorizing stuff. Pretty soon it becomes a habit.
Do you know what you want to try next?
I want to be a picker. That’s the person who fills the order and puts things in boxes. I’m nervous, but I want to give it a try. It takes me a little while, but I get there. At least you can’t say I didn’t try. □