MOD Pizza is pledging to hire a more inclusive workforce

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MOD Pizza, a fast-casual pizza concept with 450 locations nationwide, is joining an inclusion campaign with a pledge to provide job opportunities to those with disabilities or individuals who would otherwise face barriers to employment.

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Through the Delivering Jobs pledge, the artisan pizza company will team up with a coalition of companies in a commitment to create one million new employment and leadership opportunities for people with autism and intellectual and developmental differences (IDD) by 2025.

As part of the campaign, Delivering Jobs is challenging businesses to identify ways to tap into the disabled workforce as part of their diversity and inclusion plans and give them access to at least 1% of employment and leadership opportunities.

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The company’s commitment will build upon its current staff, known as the “MOD squad,” of 300 employees with IDD. In partnership with Best Buddies, a non-profit that creates opportunities for employment, around 30% of the MOD squad at large is in the category of an opportunity hire.

“We have an absolute interest in increasing those hires because we so clearly see the benefits of providing job opportunities for people with barriers to employment,” co-found of MOD Pizza Ally Svenson told FOX Business. “Just the overall awareness, compassion and sense of gratitude that opportunity employees show with the sheer gift of a job impacts an entire squad in such a positive way.”

CHERRY HILL, NEW JERSEY, UNITED STATES – 2017/08/27: Mod Pizza location. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Eighty-one percent of adults with intellectual and developmental differences do not have a paid job in their community.

However, MOD Squad is paving a leadership style that attests to the value that opportunity employees not only take away in their personal lives but also contribute to the business. As one of the fastest-growing restaurant concepts in the US, the company's inclusive workforce is proving to drive growth and success.

“It is an absolute win-win,” Svenson said. “We’re such believers now after all of the years that we've been able to observe what happens when we provide the right job opportunity for the right person at the right time. They bring real joy and inspiration to the squad, to customers. All these things are great for our business. It's great for our business.”

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According to Svenson, the IDD population are not only loyal and hardworking, but they are also some of the most tenured employees. And oftentimes, opportunity hires are the “fiercest protectors of the business” as a result of their appreciation for the stability, as well as the ability to build their life from this platform.

Keisha, a MOD Pizza opportunity employee from Daly, California, helps prepare the dough, cuts and seasons the broccoli for the pizza and cleans the dishes.

“I appreciate that it gives me a chance to earn my own money and be more independent,” Keisha told FOX Business. “I love to greet customers when they enter and exit the store. And I have friends at work that I like spending time with. People with disabilities should have the same opportunities as people without disabilities.”

Another MOD squad member, Edy from Parkland, Florida, enjoys making sure customers are happy and have a clean environment to enjoy their pizza. Some of his responsibilities include pressing the dough, keeping the lobby tidy and serving the customers.

“Most of all, I’m able to be myself and that means never giving up as well as advocating for myself,” Edy said. “People with IDD want to be included in the workplace and have a competitive job.”

In addition to opportunity hires, MOD Pizza is also dedicated to including justice-involved individuals, whether previously incarcerated or undergoing rehab programs.

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Part of MOD Pizza’s DNA is made up of the belief in second chances. Each year, 650,000 individuals exit the criminal justice system, and one of the key indicators for a successful re-entry is employment, according to the United States Department of Justice.

“Early on we took a chance on the folks that have been three-time felons or have had a lot of justice involvement, and they have helped us to understand the good that can come from giving them another chance at life,” MOD Pizza’s Ally Svenson said.

Justin, a general manager at MOD Pizza, spent 7 years in prison since he was arrested at age 18. After confronting rejection from multiple jobs because of his past, including a fast-food position that paid minimum wage, he landed an opportunity at MOD Pizza.

“I fell in love with the whole culture of MOD — ‘people before pizza,” Justin told FOX Business. “I’m living those values and putting people first. Re-entry is hard — so helping others get back on their feet is the most rewarding part of my life. I’m super grateful to MOD.”

Justin now attends job fairs for those exiting the justice system, where he’s helped hire three people who are “thriving at MOD,” just like him.

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