Opportunity and Hope for North Lawndale Job Seekers

By: Mike Hobbs

Mike and his first employee from Cara Chicago enjoying a moment together at EGP.

Mike and his first employee from Cara Chicago enjoying a moment together at EGP.

I recently retired from Engineered Glass Products (EGP), when I sold my interest in the company in December of 2015. EGP is a manufacturing company located at 29th and Halsted Street south, which makes the glass that goes on the inside of self-cleaning oven doors. In fact, we made 10 million pieces of oven glass annually and had been for the last 15 years.

I have been attending Old St. Pat's since 2002. During the first few years of attending church there I became acquainted with its various organizations and ministries. In 2006 I became aware of Cara Chicago's award winning workforce development programming. Over the next couple of years, I got to know Eric Weinheimer, the Executive Director, and talked with him about his efforts to provide employment to Cara's clients. With some gentle arm twisting Eric prevailed upon me to hire a Cara client at EGP and test the results over time. Our first employee performed well encouraging me to try a 2nd and 3rd client. The result weren’t as promising with the second two. This poor result at my company caused Cara to ask me why their clients weren’t succeeding. We decided to analyze the process and see what we could learn. After analyzing the situation and discussing the difficulties we had experienced, EGP provided Cara's support staff members with a specification for entry level employees to qualify for working at the company. Upon being hired, Cara would monitor their clients' progress weekly for a month, then monthly, as long as needed, and then on a quarterly basis until only an annual review was needed. So, you ask, how did I decide to employ Cara clients at EGP in the first place? I remember hearing many times in my life “to whom much is given much is expected,” and I thought if I don’t help-out, who is going to. People need a hand up, rather than a hand out. Plus, our company was experiencing difficulty attracting entry level employees when we needed them the most. So, I thought, what do I have to lose? Let’s give Cara a second opportunity to provide us with screened job seekers that have a chance of becoming long term employees for our company in the future.

A few weeks after I retired I stopped at EGP, and the first person I saw was a Cara client who had worked for the company for 5 years while I was still in a position of leadership there. He greeted me with a smile and thanked me for caring and providing him an opportunity that started 5 years of continuous work for the first time in his life. Six months later, I heard that he was close to being terminated due to absence and poor attitude issues. I called Cara that day and advised them of the situation. Within a few days Cara had a counselor call the troubled employee and they assessed the situation and interviened. Cara provided weekly counseling to the employee for several months and helped him start turning his attitude around and today he is doing well.

It wasn’t always the easiest path, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences of owning my business. To employ people who needed a second chance, who had nothing when they started working for our company, and to watch them achieve independence, to become confident in themselves and become proud of who they are and who they were becoming in their own eyes, for me it was a truly awesome experience.

My experience with Cara clients has been really good. As of 2015, EGP had hired 38 Cara clients. All started as entry level employees, which allowed them to begin to understand the process of our factory and get to know people. Every new hire from Cara worked their way into more skilled jobs as soon as they exhibited an interest in other jobs in the factory. As we got to know our new workers we found people from all walks of life who were in need of a second chance, who wanted to get back to work and become an active member of their community. Today at EGP, Cara clients work as inspectors, mechanics, material managers, and in the purchasing department. Many have left EGP, taking other jobs, using their experience and time with EGP as a stepping stone to get into work more suited to their talents or work they preferred more than being on an assembly line. I encouraged them to improve themselves and learn and grow from their experience at my company, so they could transition to better opportunities for themselves and their families.

So, what does it take to become an employer of Cara clients and do it successfully? In the last 5 years CARA has placed over 3700 people in jobs in the City of Chicago. I think they are doing something right. I know EGP benefited from their efforts to give people a second chance, and now, your help is needed to promote the work of North Lawndale Works at Old St. Patrick's Church and provide Cara Chicago and North Lawndale Employment Network clients employment opportunities they wiuld not have access to otherwise.

My question is, "What can you or will you do to give a North Lawndale job seeker a chance to secure dignified, sustainable work? Do you own a business that can employ a North Lawndale job seeker? Can you speak to someone at your company about offering a chance to one or more of them?

Mike Hobbs is a long time member of Old St. Patrick's Church and currently serving with the North Lawndale Works Leadership Team.