Hershey's H.E.R.O.S Program


In Summer 2013, The Hershey Company manufacturing plant in Stuarts Draft, Virginia, announced an initiative, sponsored through a Hershey corporate initiative, to offer apprenticeships for approximately six individuals with disabilities. The announcement of this corporate initiative, titled "Hershey Extends Real Opportunities to Succeed" (H.E.R.O.S.), led to the beginning of a highly successful strategic partnership with the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services (DARS) through its local Division of Rehabilitative Services (DRS) Office and the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center (WWRC).  The DARS partnership with the Hershey apprenticeship program offered individuals with disabilities a six-month work experience on the production line.  During the apprenticeship, DARS clients could access any needed supports from Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center (WWRC), a division of DARS located in nearby Fishersville, Virginia, to help them complete the program as long as they were able to perform the required duties at the end of the six months.


Unique features of this partnership included:

  • Linkages with DRS Business Development Managers:  The Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) employs Division of Rehabilitative Services (DRS) Business Development Managers who continuously assess labor market data and workforce trends across the Commonwealth of Virginia to locate and cultivate relationships with businesses and corporate entities interested in hiring people with disabilities.  The Business Development Managers serve as consultants on disability issues and provide a single Agency point of contact to facilitate integration of comprehensive Agency services. 
  • Understanding the Work Environment: The regional DRS Business Development Manager and targeted WWRC medical/vocational staff conducted a site visit at the Hershey manufacturing plant to assess a typical work station that DARS clients would use during their apprenticeship, if selected for the program.  This increased the likelihood of success for selected candidates, allowing a more targeted match of DARS client abilities with the needs of the business environment.
  • Candidate Screening Process: Following the Hershey site visit, the regional DRS Business Manager and WWRC staff determined it was critical for candidates to have the physical strength and stamina to perform labor at a typical work station in the Hershey plant. As DRS began screening potential candidates for the program, a WWRC Physical Therapist administered a physical work performance evaluation (PWPE), providing a reliable, valid, clinical assessment of an internship candidate's ability to complete physical labor. Candidates also participated in a simulated production line activity through the WWRC Materials Handling Training Program to assess how they would handle a work setting such as Hershey.  The results of the PWPE and the simulated production line were used by Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Counselors in the local DRS Office, combined with other criteria, to select potential candidates for the apprenticeship program.
  • Hershey Interview Process: Hershey conducted a competitive interview process with five DRS-recommended VR clients along with other interested individuals with disabilities, following their corporate and local plant requirements.  Six people with disabilities were hired to participate in the H.E.R.O.S apprenticeship program following the interview process.
  • WWRC Wrap-Around Supports: Selected VR clients from the local Fishersville DRS Office were able to access any needed employment supports from WWRC during their six-month apprenticeship to ensure continued success in the program. Employment supports could include, but were not limited to:  work strengthening, targeted vocational skill development, and educational supports leading to attainment of the industry-recognized Virginia Career Readiness Certificate.
  • H.E.R.O.S Apprenticeship Outcomes: Of the six people with disabilities initially hired to participate in the program, all five VR clients who were pre-screened by DRS completed the apprenticeship and were subsequently hired by the Stuart's Draft Hershey manufacturing plant. Post-employment supports are available through DARS should any of these VR clients, since closed successfully by the Agency, need supports in the future to maintain, regain, or advance in employment.  The one person with a disability who independently applied and was selected following the Hershey interview process without DRS/WWRC supports, was unable to successfully complete the apprenticeship program.  Since the initial program, one additional VR client from the DRS Fishersville Office has been hired through this collaborative partnership and has been successful. 


The Hershey Company plant in Stuart's Draft, Virginia, was honored for its H.E.R.O.S Program during the 2014 DARS Champions event conducted during October as part of National Disability Awareness Month. In January, 2015, the new Stuart's Draft Hershey Plant Manager toured WWRC with CEOs from other local and regional companies who have heard of the success of the H.E.R.O.S Program, to continue and expand this type of partnership that dually benefits the employer and qualified job seekers with disabilities.


The Virginia Board for Workforce Development, the governor's key advisory body on workforce hosted its April, 2016  meeting at WWRC and toured the Center as well as received a panel presentation by Hershey and former WWRC clients now employed by Hershey.  Key staff involved from the Governor's Office promoting WIOA are enthused about inclusive training and employment practices for individuals with disabilities as they seek to meet credentialing objectives set by the Governor and workforce creation goals outlined in EO23.  Click HERE for HERSHEY presentation to the Virginia Board of Workforce Development tiltled "Recognizing the Value of Inclusion".