“It wasn’t a coincidence,” Akiya said, describing how two different people sent her the same job posting for a position at the dining hall at the University of Illinois in Chicago (UIC.) At 18 years old, Akiya is the youngest person on her team, and is currently working on her high school diploma while working full time and caring for her daughter. Akiya got her start under the supportive but no nonsense tutelage of Ms. Cathy during the 16 week transitional job program at Bright Endeavors, an employment social enterprise candle company that provides a paying job and supportive services for young moms in Chicago. Bright Endeavors is a member of REDF’s national portfolio of employment social enterprises.
Ms. Cathy, the Trainer and Production Supervisor says “It’s not just about getting a job, it’s about keeping a job and gaining skills to become self-sufficient,” When Akiya got to UIC, she felt prepared—“It was just boom and you’re out there, serving on 4 or 5 stations and no one holding your hand. Ms. Cathy only tells you one time, because your manager should only have to tell you things one time. They’re not your parent, you’re getting paid.” Ms. Cathy agrees—“I remind them that the training program has an end date, and I let them know what to expect in the real world.”
Bright Endeavors was founded to intervene in the lives young mothers in order to touch two generations at once. Trainees learn how to identify their strengths and weaknesses in professional skills such as time management, attention to detail, and emotional control. While their day to day tasks are made up of small-batch manufacturing high end candles, the skills they learn can help them in any field.
Bright Endeavors is a part of a larger nonprofit called New Moms, that offers many supportive services to single mothers including housing and family support. Each trainee leaves the program with a plan for how to handle unexpected challenges with things like transportation or childcare that might prevent them from getting to work.
Akiya wants to finish high school early and is excited about moving forward with her education, which she can do more easily with an employee tuition waver at UIC.
What she learned about accountability has served her well in her new job, something that many employers notice about new hires coming out of social enterprise training programs. “When you hire them, you see their motivation and commitment,” says Ms. Cathy. “Plus,” Akiya added, “the dining hall where I work is called Cathy, so I know it was meant to be.”
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.