Workforce Initiative Breaks Employment Barriers

Published on : 9/30/22
  • Workforce development is a win-win. 

    Employers like Sodexo get vetted, supported employees who are eager to work and can perform hard-to-fill jobs. And people who may face barriers to employment get a chance to grow and shine in supportive, inclusive environments that value their strengths. 

    October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and Sodexo North America proudly works with more than 40 workforce development and job readiness organizations nationwide. 

    Launched in 2018, our Workforce Initiative helps people with disabilities, work-eligible refugees and immigrants, the re-entry population and members of other vulnerable communities obtain stable, rewarding jobs. 

    Workforce Initiative was based on the need for frontline workers in operations, says Gloria Puentes, Director for External Strategic Partnerships for Sodexo Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. What began in eight U.S. cities has expanded to every state, she says.  

    It has really helped us increase our talent pool and build inclusivity.


    How It Works

    Eligible workers — adults and high school students — seek services from state workforce agencies, often through community case workers or family members. Then, state agencies work with nonprofit partners and employers to identify job opportunities. Workers receive training and on-the-job coaching to acclimate to the business and tasks. 

    That’s how it works in Maine, where Sodexo has a long-standing relationship with the state Department of Labor’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation in the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services. The agency supports employers in recruiting and training workers for in-demand jobs in the community, in collaboration with contracted providers across the state.

    So many capable people want to work, says Darcy Brockman, Business Account Manager and Youth Employment Consultant for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (known informally as “Voc Rehab”). The right support — assessment, training, accommodations, coaching and mentoring — allows them to find good jobs and succeed. 

    You see the ability in the disability, she says. Give new talent a chance, give people an opportunity. We get them ready for work.


    Meaningful Opportunities on Maine Campuses

    On Sodexo campuses in Maine, adult and high school workers are joining student dining teams to fill roles that tap into their interests and strengths. 

    On the Gorham campus of University of Southern Maine (USM), high school students, who are also Vocational Rehabilitation clients, are supported through summer jobs. 

    Three students worked last summer under Food Services Manager Tyler Stinson. A new manager, he found he really enjoyed mentoring and teaching.

    Tyler is a great mentor, Area General Manager Tadd Stone says.

    USM has worked with Vocational Rehabilitation and its local contracted provider for many years, even prior to Sodexo taking over the contract in 2016, Stone says. “We’ve always had such great students. We try to introduce them into an environment that feels safe for them.” 

    This year, high school sophomore Dylan was a standout in the dish room, Stinson says.

    At first, he was a little unsure about whether he would like what he was doing, he says. But he ended up finding his niche.

    Dylan became known for cranking classic rock tunes and clamoring to work the busiest shifts, which serve up to 600 students per meal. “He loved the busier experience,” Stinson says. “It was something he could zone in on, focus on.” 

    Now, Stinson aims to bring on more students next year. 

    At University of Maine Farmington (UMF), campus dining currently employs six people (in permanent positions) through the collaboration with the Vocational Division of Rehabilitation. 

    We’ve gotten very good people through this program, says Tamra Hartley, Food Service Manager. We really try hard to place everyone in a spot where they can be successful.

    One worker is now a key player in the bakery. 

    She came in with some baking skills, Hartley says. That was her passion. She prefers to work alone, so now she bakes all weekend to prepare for the week ahead. She was a really great addition.

    Other employees work the dish room, clean the dining room and give breaks front of house or at the cash register. The busy dining room is open 12 hours per day, serving up to 500 students per meal. 

    Hartley says she doesn’t normally know or even ask details around a worker’s disability. She focuses on their strengths.

    Good communication is critical, along with proper safety, food, environmental and health training. She strives to create an environment where everyone feels safe and successful. 

    The employees referred through the state are a huge benefit in helping fill positions on her 55-person staff, and she, too, plans to grow the program. We need everybody we have here, Hartley says. You try to be inclusive and meet the needs of the business.

    We’re all human beings. They may have challenges in some areas but excel in others — like any other employee.