While businesses in China’s service sector often struggle to retain employees, Li Ping says he has had no turnover problems with his staff.
The Shanghai-based franchisee, who runs 500 Dairy Queen and Papa John’s Pizza outlets in China, hires many of his employees from a special training school in the city, called Ji Xun. It’s a school for the intellectually disabled.
Around 80 employees who have learning disabilities have been selling pizzas at 22 of Mr. Li’s Papa John’s stores or are crafting ice cream cakes at one of the Dairy Queen factories in Shanghai. They wear pins that say, “Please help me serve you better.” It encourages customers to give feedback on the service, which may be a little slower than at other stores, Mr. Li said.
Most of the workers have been on staff for three years now, some since 2007, when Mr. Li first started hiring the disabled for several Papa Johns outlets. The average turnover rate for other employees is a year or less, Mr. Li said.
The retention rate has been an unexpected reward for Mr. Li’s hiring decision, which he first made five years ago after meeting Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver on a China visit. “I decided that I wanted to change the culture through enterprise, through action,” Mr. Li said.
The culture Mr. Li is referring to is the one in which the mentally disabled have been shunned and shuttered from Chinese society. When Mr. Li was young, he discovered that one of his neighbors had an intellectual disability and was “treated like a prisoner,” he said. Parents of the disabled boy physically locked him up.
Disabilities within China, as with many other countries of the world, are largely seen as social stigmas. Instances in which intellectually disabled children live in isolation or do not have proper care can still be found here, said Mr. Shriver recently in an interview with China Real Time.
But China has come a very long way in recognizing the rights of the disabled, Mr. Shriver said. “A decade ago, leaders were still discussing euthanizing this subset of the population, and now there are examples of integration and inclusion into society,” he said.
In some ways, China has surpassed the U.S. in its recognition of the intellectually disabled, Mr. Shriver said, recalling a recent conversation he had with the mayor of Shanghai, Han Zheng. Mr. Han mentioned that he’d consider creating a separate civil servants exam to enable government hiring of disabled persons.
“You don’t see this kind of progress in the U.S.,” Mr. Shriver said, adding that it’s also scarce to see an entire retail outlet run by intellectually disabled staff.
Over the past decade, the creation of wealth has catapulted the quality of life for most people in China, including those with disabilities, Mr. Shriver said. The government has allocated more funding toward special education, building more schools and opening community centers across the country.
Leaders have also been eager to demonstrate that their attitudes toward the disabled are modernizing. Shanghai hosted the Special Olympics World Summer Games in 2007. The nation’s largest television network, China Central Television, broadcast the events.
Government funding has helped the movement grow from having no participants a decade ago to more than 625,000 today.
There are two Papa John’s outlets in Shanghai that are fully operated by disabled employees.
Mr. Li said he’ll continue to hire more stores like this. He hopes to encourage other businesses to do the same.
Monday, December 26, 2011
China restaurateur finds retention of employees in overlooked corner: intellectually disabled people
The China Realtime Report:
Posted by BA Haller at 9:12 PM