Greyston celebrated its 32nd Anniversary this year and we are extremely proud of our heritage as a pioneering social enterprise. Over these past thirty-two years the concepts of social entrepreneurship, conscious capitalism and environmental sustainability have become common terminology in many business and political circles. What has not changed is the inability for individuals with a history of criminal behavior, substance abuse or homelessness to be able to overcome past indiscretions and find decent employment.
This problem continues to plague many cities that have no solution for their citizens living in poverty. Our business, located in Yonkers, New York (on the border of New York City) supplies some of the world’s most innovative and socially conscious companies, among them Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s. We also have a partnership with the Whole Planet Foundation which is creating jobs to help alleviate poverty. We were given the honor of contributing to this Journal because we bring a unique perspective to solving this problem. We are willing to hire anyone coming through the front door of our Bakery through a policy called “Open Hiring”.
Greyston uses Open Hiring as a tool to address community renewal through hiring the most economically disadvantaged residents, as well as a mechanism for differentiating our business. It is difficult to stand out in a global supply chain, but because of our social justice commitment we get recognized and valued alongside multi-national suppliers much larger in size. Moreover, the benefits Open Hiring provides within our organization and the local economy are numerous:
• We pay $1,300,000 in salaries to Open Hire employees, which get reinvested in the local Yonkers community.
• We focus the majority of our onboarding resources on employee training, versus interviews and background checks, enabling a cost effective means for growing the workforce.
• We train our community’s most economically disadvantaged residents and provide them with skills that can break the cycle of poverty in their family.
• We generate $2 million in savings to Westchester County through reduced recidivism.
Many of the people who come to Greyston Bakery have significant barriers to employment. These may include a history of incarceration, addiction, poor education and chronic, multi-generational unemployment. However, in most other ways, they are not very different from anyone seeking an entry-level job. The perception, based on a piece of information from their past, is that these individuals will not be effective team members and are not worthy of an opportunity.
It is important to note that we fully expect and require each employee to be contributing and productive employees when they are introduced to the plant floor. It is essential that for the safety of our team and the safety and quality of our customers’ products that each employee is performing his or her job and is aware of the food safety requirements for our facility. Once beginning their first shift there is zero tolerance for underperformance on the job.
Not surprisingly, training sits at the forefront of our culture at Greyston. We have a three-pronged training strategy that focuses on worker readiness, food safety and quality, and hard skills in manufacturing. All of our employees begin training during their orientation and we have a continuous training program with each employee allowing them to further improve their skills.
We have found that although many of our new employees arrive with some skills, they are often inexperienced and unsophisticated when it comes to basic work practices. Our worker readiness training may be unique to many employers as it introduces each team member to the basic expectations we have for them to be successful employees. These include topics such as attendance, communication tools, teamwork and problem solving. During their apprenticeship the employees are evaluated weekly and their supervisors review with them any areas where further improvement is needed.
“I was illegal since I was a teenager.Now to be legal and working on credit, bank accounts and stuff like that, it means a lot.It feels like I am part of society now. Before, I did not feel like that.” – Dion Drew
Another critical program at Greyston is PathMaking, which reflects Greyston’s belief that individuals can be supported to achieve “wholeness” (self-sufficiency) that comes from having a well-balanced, satisfying and integrated personal, spiritual, and professional life. Through this program, Greyston provides training and guidance in continuing education, health and wellness, nutrition, mental health, literacy, personal finance education, budgeting and saving. PathMaking has a ripple effect to the greater community: as individuals become more self-sufficient and self-assured, they become stronger participating members of the community, and the community becomes stronger as a whole.
Open Hiring is a manifestation of our core value of Transformation. By accepting others, where they are right now, without considering anything from their life history, we believe that we are creating positive change for individuals and in turn, their surrounding communities.
While we apply Open Hiring to our food manufacturing facility it can be applied to entry level positions in any industry and we challenge business leaders to look more closely at their employment procedures to ensure they are not using outdated practices for hiring and training new employees that establish unnecessary barriers for individuals most in need of help that could be successful contributors to the entire firm’s workforce.
Mike Brady is the President & CEO of Greyston Bakery Inc.