Member Profile: EmergeWORKS, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Janet Ludden

Janet Ludden

Year enterprise began: 1996
Program sponsor: EMERGE Community Development
Job seekers placed by EmergeWORKS last year: 395

EmergeWORKS is the full-service staffing enterprise of EMERGE Community Development, a nonprofit that works to expand economic opportunity and reduce racial disparities for residents of the Twin Cities region facing high rates of joblessness and poverty. Last year EMERGE Community Development assisted over 3,000 individuals through its housing, job training, employment, transportation and financial empowerment services.

The staffing business has operated for 20 years and is one of four employment social enterprises in EMERGE’s newly-formed Enterprise Division, a diverse portfolio created through its merger last summer with Momentum Enterprises. Operating alongside EmergeWORKS are Second Chance Recycling, which recycles mattresses and batteries; Second Chance Manufacturing, which provides custom manufacturing services, commercial sewing and custom wood fabrication; and Furnish Office and Home, a retail seller of quality used and new furniture. Together the four businesses expect to generate $8.3 million in combined revenues in 2016 while employing 500 individuals in transitional jobs that will help them earn income, gain skills and experience, build a positive work history and advance into the mainstream labor market.

Janet Ludden, Executive Vice President at EMERGE, is the former President of Momentum Enterprises and heads the new Enterprise Division. We spoke with Janet for an update on EmergeWORKS and to learn about the challenges and benefits of managing the new portfolio.

First, what job seeker population do EMERGE’s enterprises recruit and employ?
We employ people with multiple barriers to employment including generational poverty, lack of educational attainment, little or no work history, previous criminal convictions and chemical addiction. Most are male, African Americans who are representative of the population most affected by racial disparities in our neighborhoods and region.

We also employ students from our Career and Technology Center which offers credential-earning sectoral training in Machining, MIG Welding, CISCO IT Essentials, Property Maintenance and Certified Nursing Assistance.

How does your recruitment and intake process work?
Our staffing business recruits workers for all four enterprises. Job seekers can apply online through the website or may be referred internally from case managers and job counselors in the course of receiving housing, training or financial empowerment services. We also organize hiring fairs and receive referrals from diverse nonprofit, governmental and for-profit partners, including other staffing agencies. There’s a strong spirit of “coop-etition” among our referral partners. We’re all working to meet employer needs, reduce racial disparities and tap into the large pool of underutilized people.

What types of support services have you found to be most critical to your workers’ success?
Soft skills are key. Prior to placement, we encourage all applicants (and require some) to participate in “Hire Ground,” our 12-hour course that focuses on self-exploration, career exploration, communications and presentation, financial literacy, and job search skills.

Our transportation services are also vital in connecting staffing workers to suburban job sites and supplementing public transportation for weekend and late night shifts. With only two vans at the moment, we’d like to expand our capacity.

What types of employers does EmergeWORKS serve?
We supply staff to firms in manufacturing, construction cleanup and institutional food service. We’ve just hired a new General Manager who’s a seasoned staffing professional and will be leading us to target our sales efforts and expand our customer portfolio, with input from our Business Advisory Council.

What marketing messages have you found to be most effective in attracting new staffing customers?
Our number one marketing message is unparalleled customer service. We also emphasize our supportive services which enable us to assure attendance, productivity and high worker retention.

How do you track applicants and coordinate placements between the multiple enterprises and enrollment in EMERGE’s sectoral and computer skills training opportunities?
We are currently shopping for staffing software to help streamline this process. Meanwhile, we use ClientTrack software to manage information about our candidates and Advance Partners for customer data, plus internal databases of EmergeWORKS.

What are the biggest challenges of operating a staffing business in your market?
At the moment, the low rate of unemployment is making it more difficult to find ready-to-work candidates.

Please share a staffing customer solution.
FedEx has a distribution warehouse about 20 miles outside the city which presents a difficult commute for many. Last holiday season they were seeking both temp and temp-to-hire workers, and we developed a transportation contract to get our people there at odd hours, supplying about 15 to 30 workers per shift. The transportation services were so successful in boosting workforce retention that Fedex added another contract for its incumbent workers. The arrangement benefited everyone – more and better job opportunities for our candidates, increased revenue for EmergeWORKS and improved retention for FedEx. Currently we’re investigating additional recruitment strategies to attract applicants to fill FedEx’s round the clock shift requirements.

What are your ASO’s main goals for the future?
With a new General Manager in place, we aim to grow our sales, implement new staffing software, increase our transportation services, and explore the opening of a branch in St. Paul. Our sales goal for 2017 is $2 million, double our current annual billings. We’re also working to improve our tracking of conversions and long-term employment retention.

What advice would you offer to someone considering alternative staffing as a strategy in their community?
Think of yourself as a business and know your full operating costs – business and social. With this knowledge, set realistic goals about the bottom line contribution you expect the ASO to contribute, or conversely, the subsidy that the enterprise will need.

For more information, please visit EmergeWORKS on the web.

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