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Big Bazaar’s Retail Internship Programme is opening new avenues for youth with intellectual disabilities

India's flagship retailer Big Bazaar regularly conducts internship programmes where young adults with intellectual disabilities are given hands on experience in retail operations in major stores. These programmes are being across many stores in India.

"I like working in the women's fashion section", says Reet Kaur Ghura, with a shy smile, "especially arranging the tops, pants and dresses and organising clothes in the hangers". The 19-year-old is among the 12 young adults with intellectual disabilities being put through the paces of various retail operations at the Big Bazaar store at HyperCITY Malad, Mumbai.

These youngsters are the first to undergo a full day's training programme across various sections ranging from food, household products to fashion.

Khushi Thakkar, 19, is arranging food items on the shelves watched by a senior Big Bazaar employee or Buddy. "I make sure that the labels of the food items face front when I arrange", says Khushi. She loves coming here because "I like to help everyone and enjoy the work".

Inclusion at every stage

Retail giant Big Bazaar is walking the talk when it comes to inclusion at the workplace. Not only is it making shopping accessible to people with disabilities, the group is also promoting inclusion at the workplace. The retail Internship programme for youth with intellectual disabilities is a part of this.

Many of the trainees have done similar stints in other stores and seem at ease with the music and lights as they go about their work calmly and efficiently. Nimesh Dinesh Shah, Department Manager, Fashion, and a Buddy, is full of admiration. "It's so great to see them learning so much especially when you consider that some of them are still in class 12. We are also making it easy for them by taking it in a step by step manner".

The youngsters are from the Sol's ARC, the Mumbai NGO, that is dedicated to building programmes centered around equitable learning and employment opportunities across India. "We are here to see how it is working on the ground", says Rachita Pujari, Partnership Manager/Trainer, Sol's ARC. "Those with prior experience are more confident but they all need constant support in terms of knowing what the next task is and require clear instructions".

What comes across is the passion to learn. Leena Bharadwaj, a Buddy, can't stop marvelling at Reet's dedication. "She is focused, listens to instructions carefully and does everything just right".

The training programme has been divided into stages with customer engagement kept minimal until trainees get used to the tasks. At the fashion section for instance, they were initially taught to open the garment packages, followed by folding and hanging the clothes. "We then showed them how to put the hard tacks properly without touching the bar code", explains Nimesh. Once they master this, they will be taught about the different types of fits.

Today, Sanskar Dhir is learning how to put size cubes in every hanger to distinguish between the garment sizes. "It makes me so happy to do this", says the 20-year-old. "I am so excited to do this internship and would like to work in Big Bazaar all the time".

Placing this team at HyperCITY , says Aarti Nagpal, Human Resources Head, Mumbai, Big Bazaar, was a deliberate choice. "This store has all the categories and the trainees get to perform a wider range of tasks". Aarti is pleasantly surprised by how quickly they have picked up various skills. "They are learning how to distinguish between various fabrics now".

What also helps is the presence of many employees with disabilities at the store. "We have a hearing impaired employee for instance in a crucial role and this helps because there's already an inclusive atmosphere and are not regarded as different", says Gokul Krishna, Store Manager. There's no difference in output either between the disabled trainees and others, he adds.

After the internship, the trainees will head back to complete the rest of the Retail Management Programme at Sol's ARC. NGO Founder Sonali Saini says the full day internship is crucial to deciding their strengths.

"This 15-day internship will help us understand whether our youngsters have the stamina to do a full day and the kind of roles they are good at", says Sonali. The feedback until now has surprised her. "We never thought that all of them had the stamina to do a full day's internship. We were sure some would not be able to cope but that's not the case. My trainers tell me they have to keep reminding them to take a break!".

For the Big Bazaar team, the trainees bring a happy spirit to work. "They have such a great sense of humour", says Gokul. Aarti is looking forward to having them back for more such internships. "Their output is really good and they work with a lot of enthusiasm because they don't get bored with the repetitive nature of the tasks".

Read more about Big Bazaar's initiatives for people with autism:

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