On Their Way: DI Associates Find Confidence, Employment through Training Program

Contributed By Melissa Merrill, Church News and Events

  • 6 January 2012

Article Highlights

  • DI offers a training program that helps its associates prepare for employment.
  • Some 95 percent of associates have faced significant barriers to employment in the past.
  • In the last year, DI job placements have increased 10 percent.

Whenever an employment organization can improve its placement ratio it’s a good thing. But when it’s placing people who have previously faced significant barriers to employment—and doing it in a tough economy—it’s all the more remarkable.

That’s exactly what Deseret Industries (DI) has done in 2011. Over the past year, job placements have increased 10 percent.

That can be attributed—at least in part—to what is called the “DI Way”—a system of mentoring associates within the DI system and preparing them for sustainable employment after their participation in the program.

Here’s how it works:

  • A bishop recommends to DI a person who faces some sort of barrier to employment. (The person need not be LDS, but he or she does need the recommendation of a local bishop.) Barriers may include physical, psychological, emotional, or language-related challenges. In other cases, someone is struggling with an addiction or has grown up in poverty and simply has no idea about how to secure a job. Whatever the nature of the impediment, it is preventing the individual from being able to obtain or maintain steady employment. Some 98 percent of DI associates—what DI calls those who participate in the program—face such a barrier.
  • DI development specialists—usually licensed clinical social workers, certified rehabilitation counselors, or other professionals in the field of social work—perform an assessment to get to know the associate and his or her abilities as well as barriers. Together, they develop a plan that the associate takes responsibility for. This plan focuses on where the associate wants to go and may include steps for adjusting work behaviors, obtaining education or technical certifications, improving language skills, or entering work in a particular field.
  • The associate’s ward or branch provides a mentor—perhaps a home teacher, a Relief Society president, or an elders quorum president—to encourage the associate.
  • The associate spends a period of time working for DI under the supervision of a job coach. The amount varies by associate—each situation is adapted to the associate’s individual needs. The job coach, who is a paid professional, will work with the associate in the general DI retail store or in processing goods that come in from donations. Each week, the associate and his or her job coach identify the specific things they will work on in the coming week such as punctuality, dependability, decision-making, and getting along with coworkers and supervisors. Job coaches also regularly check in with associates about the progress they’re making in the educational and vocational goals they set.
  • At least quarterly, the mentor, the DI development specialist, and DI job coach meet together with the associate. During this meeting, the mentor and coach encourage continued progress and make adjustments to the associate’s plan as appropriate.
  • When the associate is sufficiently prepared to find a job, DI development specialist, the DI job coach, and the mentor work with the individual to help him or her find a job. In some instances, DI will approach a prospective employer about forming a business partnership. In this scenario, the associate works for the employer but DI pays his or her wages during a trial period. If the employer finds the associate a good match for the position and the company, the associate is then offered permanent employment.

Similar programs are being piloted in approximately 20 Employment Resource Services centers around the world. With placements from these areas factored in, job placement is up more than 23 percent over last year.

While all DI associates generally follow this process, there is no specific timeline for program completion; it can range from a few months to a couple of years. This flexibility is “the wonder of the program,” said Richard W. Ebert, Jr., director of Deseret Industries.

“There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ DI associate,” he said. “The time they spend with us depends on their needs. This is truly an individualized program.”

Christine Peterson knows firsthand the difference the DI Way can make. Hard work and enthusiasm had brought her from childhood poverty to success in two businesses, but poor choices and loss of finances brought her to a point of legal and financial disaster.

As she began rebuilding her shattered life in her home state of Idaho, a friend suggested to Sister Peterson that DI might be a place that could help her discover what she wanted to do with her life. Before long, she was an associate at the Pocatello facility. The people there trusted her, encouraged her, and treated her with respect and kindness.

An interests and talents evaluation indicated that Sister Peterson was a natural caregiver. A suggestion of working in the medical field piqued her interest, and DI paid for her to obtain three certifications: CNA, CPR, and Assistance with Medication. She was accepted into a phlebotomy class, where she excelled. Today, she works as a phlebotomist at a hospital and is studying to be a surgical technician.

“I can’t say enough about Deseret Industries,” Sister Peterson said. “It was a safe haven at a very difficult time. DI gave ‘me’ back to me. I became myself again, and I’m so grateful.”

Brother Ebert emphasized that the positions DI offers to its associates are not permanent employment. Rather, those positions exist to prepare associates to “step into” permanent employment and an improvement in their situation, as they did for Sister Peterson.

“We’re talking about employability enhancement or employability self-reliance,” he said. “A big part of being self-reliant is providing for yourself and your family on a financial basis. If you can’t do that, there are a lot of other things that aren’t options for you—not because the desire isn’t there, but because you’re focused on just survival.”

He pointed out that economic self-reliance—of which employment is a key part—has been part of the welfare plan from the early days of the Church.

“All things are spiritual to the Lord,” he said (see D&C 29:34). “Our economic self-reliance is an integral part of our nature and perhaps of our spiritual nature.”

DI has 43 stores in seven western states in the United States. Some 7,000 people participate in the training program each year, with some 2,500 to 3,000 successfully finding employment upon completing their training. When someone is not placed, DI coordinates with the associate to identify other community resources that may further help the associate.

Church Welfare Services is currently exploring ways of adapting this program at the ward level so that it might be implemented in areas where DI doesn’t have retail stores.

For more information about Deseret Industries, please visit deseretindustries.com.