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Pepperoni and Plane Parts

Michelle worked in the parts finishing department at Hexcel, an aerospace manufacturing subcontractor that makes parts for 737s and Boeing helicopters. It was Labor Day weekend and one of the painters hadn’t come in. Michelle told her supervisor that she would love to learn how to paint, so he showed her a few things that day and later created a new paint specialist position to prevent the team from being short handed. Three people applied, two of whom had more seniority than Michelle, but she benefited from the tutelage of a painter named Mike. Mike took her into the paint booth and showed her how to take the paint gun apart and put it back together, so when she was asked to do that at the interview she knew how.

She got her start at Orion, a social enterprise that provides job training and support services. She had done some finishing over 10 years ago, but it was at Orion that she learned part marking, machining, and assembly. In the past, Michelle struggled with addiction and incarceration, but in addition to manufacturing skills, her time at Orion showed her that she was accountable, responsible and could show up for her job.

Michelle’s most recent challenge has been motivating her team to work through a backlog. She gets the data sheets from her supervisor, and delegates the parts they’re most behind on to her crew of 9 people. They’ve already made it from 2,500 to 2,300, and if they make it below 700 they get a pizza party. Michelle likes motivating her co-workers—“It’s like a challenge every week at our crew meetings, we want to see the numbers and push ourselves to see how much we can get done.”

It’s one thing to learn well, but Michelle is grateful for being put “into a lead position where you can teach other people, and bring people up in knowledge.” Now she just has to help her team make it to that pizza party.

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 author of this blog series, and 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.

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