All Roads Lead to Learning – Claire Michaels – Hidden Talent Blog Series

When Murl first started work, she was very quiet. She loved working with her hands as an Assembler before getting laid off, but she didn’t know how to sew, like many of the people who come to work at The Empowerment Plan. The Empowerment Plan teaches more than just sewing—trainees get help addressing barriers in their life and then get help with working to achieve their goals. They work on team building, personal and professional development, leadership, and problem-solving.

The Empowerment Plan trains sewers to make coats that double as sleeping bags that can be given out to homeless people. They give people sewing machines to practice with at home, and they’ve never had a trainee who couldn’t manage to learn. Once they’ve learned, they’re put in the position to teach others—both new trainees and sometimes the general public. Murl mastered sewing and quality control—she learned to check her mistakes so that things would be easier for the next person working on each piece.

After a few years, Murl decided that she was ready to “venture out and try new things.” She applied to a job she found online at a large company that was hiring sewers for the automotive industry. The position turned out to be with an agency that was filling temporary positions at the company. The manager who interviewed Murl was impressed—he told her that she should apply directly to the company so that she would have more job stability. With support from The Empowerment Plan, she applied again and passed the sewing test, drug test, and background check. “My first day, I got there and the manager let me in, gave me my badge, introduced me to the leader, and I got started on training—I was excited.” The sewing machines and the material were different from the ones she had used at The Empowerment Plan. At first she struggled to make the car covers, but after about 3 months she was able to “breeze right through them” and even trained others in the process.

Murl’s manager told her later, “I wanted you hired in—I trust your quality. You’ve never been in my office for anything, you’re here every day and you’re working.” Murl felt good knowing that her efforts were recognized, “I’m guessing he saw something in me.”

Murl is grateful to The Empowerment Plan for giving her sewing skills and experience and for helping her to learn “the strength to keep going, and how to take care of what I’m supposed to take care of.” She’s about to finish her 2nd year at her new job and is excited to keep learning new things—she’s hoping to possibly get assigned to a team that works on special projects in the future. “They want me to touch and try new things, and they’ll train me and help me to learn.”

The Hidden Talent Blog Series tells the stories of highly-motivated, well-prepared employees who got their start at an employment social enterprise businesses. With unemployment levels at historic lows, traditional businesses struggle to find good employees. With the support of social enterprises, and their own determination to beat the odds, tens of thousands of men and women have turned their lives around. They are some of the best-trained, most loyal employees a business could hope to hire. Our intention is that this series sheds a light on their potential, and that employers consider social enterprises as a source for finding great people.

Claire Michaels is the Director of Workforce and Hiring at SFMade and Manufacture : San Jose, where she develops programs and partnerships to help people who have overcome barriers to employment find career opportunities at manufacturing businesses in San Francisco and San Jose. Claire has been a fan of REDF and part of the REDF community for many years.