In today’s job market, a hiring manager looks first for skills and next for the right fit. Unless you are 360⁰ Solutions Pest Management. Launched by the Weingart Center for the Homeless in Los Angeles’ Skid Row, the social enterprise makes sure its trainees acquire the hard skills to do the job as well as the soft social skills to fit in on the job.
According to Brian Tompkins, the former director of social enterprise at 360⁰ Solutions, “If there’s any sign there’s not the right fit, a typical hiring manager will never give you a chance.”
For Tompkins, the point of the social enterprise is to provide that chance. “We know these folks aren’t the right fit,” Tompkins says. The participants in the 360⁰ Solutions program may bring with them a history of incarceration, addiction, homelessness, mental illness, or a long term separation from the workforce that creates a barrier to reentry. “That’s why they are here in the first place. So we look at what makes them not the right fit. Then we address those issues.” At 360° Solutions, that can mean a second, third, or fourth chance to work on issues ranging from drinking to anger management and to do so in a supportive environment.
To get its participants started on the right path, and heading toward the goal of full time employment in the private sector, “We have to acknowledge that people are where they are,” Tompkins says. “Coaching in the context of a social enterprise can get them where they need to be, to build the skills and the confidence so they can be successful at another company.” That includes weeks of job preparedness classes and on-the-job training, a process Tompkins describes as, “removing the things that make an employee the wrong fit.”
For some, the problems are easy to correct. “We had one employee who was overly familiar in the way he spoke, and brought up history in the interview that was not appropriate. “We noticed it immediately in his practice job interview. In a typical job interview he wouldn’t have gotten that job. But we stopped at the end of the interview to address his shortcomings. He took it to heart and changed his method of address. He became one of our best performers.”
Other problems, like getting along with co-workers, are trickier to solve. When workplace arguments erupt, supervisors are instructed not to engage right away. That way, Tompkins says, “We have the opportunity to talk at the end of the day as a team. We encourage those discussions take place while the trainees are on the job with us. Because they won’t get that chance in a normal workplace. In a real job, they’d be fired.”
“We had one incident where someone accidently knocked a piece of equipment into another coworker. When he arrived back at the center he said, ‘I’m at a 10 right now!’ That’s the maximum on the anger management scale that he had learned along the way,” Tompkins reports.
“It took 30 minutes of confrontation,” Tompkins says, “before we could get to an honest discussion. The next day, we talked about ways he could handle his anger and turned it into a moment he could learn from.”
Finding a job opening is tough. Acing the job interview is even harder. So the team conducts a practice interview before sending candidates on a real interview. “Say for example a guy comes in smelling like booze,” Tompkins says. “But this guy might not be drunk. He might have had a few drinks the night before, but he’s sober for the interview.” Smell like booze during an interview, you’re not going to get the job. So the team reschedules the interview and uses the opportunity to discuss how to make better choices in the future.
The training and practice interviews seem to be working. Last year, 360⁰ Solutions put 18 people through transitional employment. The social enterprise helped some find outside employment; some did so on their own, and others remain employed inside the organization. “This job is hard,” Tompkins says. “Pest control is gross to many. It’s not sexy.” And yet, “Employees take pride in it. Yes, they get a paycheck, but they also get recognition in their workplace, they feel stable, and they can plan for the future—for themselves and their families. Additionally, they’re providing a service that helps solve a problem that people struggle to solve on their own. They’ve taken their lives to a whole new level,” Tomkins says. “You see wholesale improvement in their well-being. And for the people just starting out in 360⁰ Solutions, these folks are a great example.”
– Brian Tompkins has a background in business development and team leadership across a variety of industries including managed services (Aramark) and food manufacturing (Green Chopsticks, where he was National Sales and Marketing Manager). Brian holds an MBA from ESADE Business School in Barcelona and is bilingual in Spanish, an asset that has served him well in multicultural Los Angeles. After a rewarding 3 years with 360 Degree Solutions/Weingart Center, Brian recently returned to the food industry as VP of Sales and Marketing for Daesang America. Outside of work, Brian is an active volunteer in several local urban organizations, including his own family of 5, living in downtown Los Angeles.