How to survive (and thrive) when investment arrives
At Women’s Bean Project (WBP) my role as program manager means I am responsible for recruiting new applicants; providing case management services and basic needs resources; conducting community partner and employer outreach; coordinating all on-site program activities such as orientation, financial literacy, computer training, goal-setting, life skills classes, job readiness activities, providing support during job search phase; and conducting follow-up with graduates.
If that sounds like a lot for one person to handle, you are right. So attending REDF’s gathering of the social enterprise leaders in their national portfolio was a really valuable way to enlarge my skills, learn new techniques I can bring back to WBP, exchange ideas with others leading the movement, get energized (and yes, avoid burnout).
In the past, WBP had the capacity to hire and serve one large cohort of participants each year. Now that we are part of REDF’s national portfolio, their investment of capital and infusion of expertise has enabled us to enroll smaller cohorts every two months! This has doubled our capacity to provide women with a real-time opportunity to obtain supported employment through our organization and go on to permanent jobs in the Denver community.
To make sure we could serve this new influx of women successfully, I came to the retreat with the goal of learning how to leverage REDF’s support. Specifically, I wanted to learn how to expand our workforce development program at Women’s Bean Project. For us that means, jobs, jobs, and more jobs. Some of the effective Social Enterprise job retention strategies I learned about include: rapid re-employment, providing financial incentives, deploying emergency funds, offering customized coaching and supports, and providing assistance so our program graduates can upgrade from the entry job we help them find to even more rewarding jobs.
I discovered new resources that will help us continue to develop and implement employer-driven job readiness tools. That includes a “Numeracy and Literacy in the Workplace” class, that I believe will appeal to employers who need to fill entry-level jobs in light manufacturing or production.
I also learned it’s not always about the program. It’s about the person. WBP may need to be more flexible when it comes to determining when our graduates are ready to enter their supported job search phase. Some of the women we serve may be ready to apply for external work before the final three months of our nine-month transitional employment period. As a result of attending the conference we are are developing a competency-based approach to measuring success that offers more flexibility, and possibly a fast track for the women who are ready for it.
Coming together with my social enterprise colleagues was a real thrill and reinforced something all of us at WBP already know – social enterprise businesses dedicated to helping people with employment barriers enter and succeed in the workforce is a growing movement and a proven solution to many of our country’s biggest challenges. It’s a movement I am proud to be part of.
About Mary Wyciechowski
Mary Wyciechowski earned a BA in business and psychology from Hope College before beginning her professional career in social enterprise workforce development 14 years ago at Women’s Bean Project. During her first tenure, she trained program participants in different areas of the on-site food manufacturing business: production, shipping and receiving, quality control, retail sales, front desk and customer service. Mary then earned an MS in social work from Columbia University, and spent two years in workforce development with the largest staffing and recruiting agency in NYC. She returned to Denver and Women’s Bean Project in 2012, where she is now Program Manager.
About Women’s Bean Project
Based in Denver, Women’s Bean Project is a transitional job-training program serving chronically unemployed and impoverished women. Their mission is to change women’s lives by providing stepping stones to self-sufficiency through a combination of jobs in gourmet food and handmade jewelry manufacturing along with job development skills, as well as classes in the interpersonal and life skills needed to move into career entry-level employment.