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The Utility Player

Pablo is a formerly homeless veteran who has always wanted to work for the V.A.—he’s the kind of person who calls work shifts ‘tours.’ Getting hired at the V.A. took some doing—he was working a temporary job through Chrysalis, a REDF social enterprise partner that offers job-search focused services and transitional jobs. Chrysalis helped Pablo navigate the V.A.’s online application system and save his resume on a flash drive.

With Chrysalis’ support, Pablo landed a part-time position at the V.A. in the nutrition and food services department in the sanitation section. His team was responsible for cleaning 5,000 trays for three meals per day. The job “took a little bit of adjustment,” but he always remembered “his purpose-this second chance to get my life back together.” Pablo started out as a food scrapper, but his supervisor Mr. Russel noticed his positive attitude and teamwork and gave him more responsibilities. “Before long I knew the whole operation, how the machines work, and what to do if they stop working.” Fixing the machines required removing the food that had settled to the bottom—it’s dirty, wet work. Pablo did it almost every two days and his supervisor realized that he was someone he could “count on to take care of business.”

A couple months into the part-time job, Mr. Russel pulled him to the side and told him that there was going to be a full-time job in the tray line preparing food for the patients. Even though he didn’t have experience, Mr. Russel recommended Pablo based on his abilities and quick learning. Pablo landed the job and has been there for over a year, he’s since been promoted to what he calls ‘floor general.’ Pablo works the conveyer belt, putting food on the trays and conducting quality control to make sure that the food is customized to each patients’ nutritional needs. It’s fast-moving work with no time to “dilly dally” since the line is constantly moving. “I can work all the positions, like the utility player on the baseball team. I’m the guy who does all the backup work, so if anything’s short, the line can keep running nonstop.”

Pablo remains grateful for the job, and he’s hoping to eventually transition to a less physical job within the V.A. in the future. He hopes that someone will see his work ethic and take a chance on him, since he has a B.A. and has a background in clerical work.

When he applied for the tray line position, Pablo says “I was competing with people who had worked there for a long time, but I bring my military experience. I’m not a complainer or a whiner—you’ll get the best of me if you give me a chance.”

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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