Samuel never pictured himself working in customer service at a busy, new-concept grocery store. In fact, he had a hard time picturing himself applying for any job at all until one day when his parents conspired to drop him off at the local WorkForce Center.
“They just dropped me off and left me there for like two hours. Finally, I got up the courage to go in and ask to talk to someone.”
Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Services, Inc. (CMJTS) youth employment specialist, Ryan, was the first to meet with Samuel at the WorkForce Center. When the ReImagine Retail Customer Service class came up, Ryan encouraged him to attend and helped Samuel get enrolled. The small group class format helped Samuel, over the four-week course, work through his extreme shyness and gradually become comfortable interacting with the instructor and fellow students.
At an employer roundtable that was part of the class, Samuel met Mary Kruck, store director for the Isanti, Minnesota, Coborn’s Marketplace. She spoke about their new-concept store, which focuses on the customer experience. She also talked about their search for new employees open to learning new ways of doing things. Mary emphasized that everyone has different skills to offer and that Coborn’s has a place for people who are willing to work hard and capitalize on their abilities. Samuel thought,
“Maybe Coborn’s is a place that I’d like to work.”
After completing the class and passing the National Retail Federation Customer Service and Sales Certification exam, CMJTS staff set up an opportunity for Samuel to interview with Coborn’s for a paid work experience, a temporary worksite arrangement that teaches individuals work-readiness skills. Through this training, funded by the ReImagine Retail grant, Samuel spent three months in training at Coborn’s as a bagger. Samuel asked to learn more and was given the opportunity to learn how to cashier. At the end of his work experience, Samuel was surprised and happy to be offered a regular position as a cashier. Then, in August 2017, an opening in the modern kitchen area became available so Samuel applied for it.
“I really like staying busy. In the kitchen I can still enjoy interacting with the guests, but I always have extra tasks to do. It’s really fun when I get to try different things like creating the wood-fired pizzas and learning to cook a variety of things.”
Samuel shared that his homeschool background gave him great academic skills but did not force him to develop his social or technology skills. He stated that in some ways, not getting caught up in technology like other kids his age was helpful to stay focused on important things, but it also kept him unprepared for the interpersonal skills needed to be successful in a job.
When asked about some of the ways Samuel has worked through his challenges on the job, he stated,
“I just picture everyone as family. Even working with some of the more crabby customers is fun. It’s interesting to see what they are going to say on each trip to the store.”
When it comes to his dyslexia, he stated that he relies on his memory.
“I just used every free minute while cashiering to memorize the buttons, difficult words, anything I needed to know. Cucumber—that was really tough. I know it sounds crazy but that was a tough one for me. Honestly, if it wasn’t for this program, I don’t think they (Coborn’s) would have ever given me a chance at a job. My interview was bad. I couldn’t make eye contact—in fact, I looked all around the room instead of at the person interviewing me. It took me two hours to have enough courage to even go to the interview. I got to the store two hours before the interview time. I went in and wandered around to get familiar with the place. I couldn’t get up the courage to ask where to go for the interview, so I went back out to my car and I just sat there. I almost just left without doing it, but I knew I probably couldn’t get out of this one, so finally I just went in.”
What advice would Samuel give someone else?
“Just keep moving forward every day, even when you really don’t want to keep going.”
Samuel also commented about his experience in the ReImagine Retail Program.
“Patience—that was one of the best things about the people I’ve worked with in the program. They were so patient with me when I wasn’t in touch as often as I should have been. Sometimes I avoided their calls, but they just kept on trying and encouraging me.”
Samuel noted that having staff support, learning about Coborn’s during the class, meeting Mary, practicing customer service skills, and getting his certification were all important.
“It’s really great to be at a job where I work with good people. Really, everyone is so friendly and just nice.”
Mary, store director shared:
“Samuel is our diamond in the rough and we are happy to have him for as long as he is happy to have us!”
During Samuel’s training and employment at Coborn’s, his wage has increased from $9.50 an hour to nearly $12 an hour. Congratulations, Samuel!
Samuel - ReImagine Retail
Early in my career I earned my bachelor’s degree in Conflict Studies and Peacemaking with a minor in Native American Studies, but never pursued a career with that degree. Instead, my career has been primarily in the construction industry for about 25 years.
In 2008, after a downturn in construction, I met Vanessa through the Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Services, Inc., (CMJTS) Dislocated Worker Program. While I was interested in training, as a single parent, it didn’t work out for me at that time. I rode out the recession and returned to construction. Unfortunately, I later experienced several injuries requiring surgery and therapy, including a serious on-the-job injury, which prevented me from returning to construction. Knowing my desire to become a physical therapist assistant (PTA), my physical therapy doctor encouraged me to pursue a career as a PTA.
Eventually I reconnected with Vanessa and the Dislocated Worker Program. She proved to be indispensable with her knowledge of the program and her support. She walked me through the process every step of the way, from career exploration to qualifying for the PTA program. Vanessa explained every facet of the program and ensured all deadlines and timelines were met. I applied and was accepted into the PTA program at Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) in Watertown, SD—two hours west of Willmar. Vanessa was able to assist with my school expenses and even had money, at times, to help me make ends meet. She was an invaluable resource during my entire program from start to finish, regularly checking in to ask me if there was anything I needed to be successful.
On May 11, 2018, I graduated with high honors from the PTA program. If it hadn’t been for the Dislocated Worker Program and Vanessa’s guidance through the process, school may not have been a possibility. Along with the support of my wife, knowing that someone else would go to great lengths to help me succeed, motivated me to work harder.
I am currently a PTA at Meeker Manor, a skilled nursing facility, in Litchfield, MN, and enjoy helping people through the healing and recovery process to regain their prior level of function or surpass it.
Michael - Minnesota Dislocated Worker
Austin, father of three, suffered kidney failure in 2002, which completely changed his life. His first kidney transplant failed and he had a second in 2016. The birth of his third child motivated him to improve his education. While on dialysis, he earned his GED through Adult Basic Education (ABE). While at ABE, he learned about the CMJTS Pathways to Prosperity grant opportunity, which would allow him to learn welding at Anoka Technical College. While attending classes, he made many things out of various metals such as a lamp, saw horses, and various artistic pieces made from welding blueprints. He completed the program with a 3.4 GPA and is now considering starting his own business.
“I am grateful for the positive support, ease of navigation, and helpful financial assistance during my time at school. We need to do a better job of getting the word out (about these programs) and not have to ‘stumble’ upon services.”
Austin - CMJTS Pathways to Prosperity and Central MN East ABE Co-enrollment
Khamla was born in Laos and spent six years in a refugee camp before coming to the U.S at age 17. He finished at the top of his high school class and got a scholarship to the University of St. Thomas. However, due to illness in his family, he turned down the scholarship and went to work for a medical device company where he worked in engineering for 22 years. Then after a series of lay-offs, Khamla was referred to CMJTS for the dislocated worker program. Three years later, Khamla earned his mechanical engineering degree from St. Cloud State. Next fall, he will start his M.A. in clinical research.
“What can I say? Literally they helped me with everything. At CMJTS I found the best person I’ve ever worked with in my whole life!”
Khamla - CMJTS State Dislocated Worker Program Customer
Priscilla at 22 years old was homeless and a drug addict. She kicked the drug habit on her own, but without any education was only able to get entry-level jobs. A friend introduced her to CMJTS, which helped her set her goals: earning her GED, obtaining work experience, and going to college. With support service help from CMJTS, Priscilla earned her GED, worked a temporary job at a library where she learned time management and other soft skills, and, in January 2017, she started the Healthcare Administrative Assistant program. Priscilla earned a 4.0 GPA during her first year and shared, “I am not a drug addict; I am a college student!”
“In the short term, I’d like to work at a mental health clinic as a receptionist. In ten years, when I’m done with my education, I want to work in elderly care. Thank you to my employment specialist. She is an amazing person.”
Priscilla - CMJTS WIOA Out-of-School Youth
When four coworkers and I lost our jobs to restructuring, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I had been taking graduate classes to be a counselor who helps people suffering from addiction. A neighbor asked me if I knew about the program that helped retrain people who lost their job. One thing led to another and I was introduced to the (Minnesota) Dislocated Worker Program through CMJTS.
I have always had a job, always paid my way, and never wanted any charity. What I was offered through the dislocated worker program was a way to finish my education and apply for Licensure as an Alcohol and Drug Counselor without having to eat up all of my 401K.
Yes, I had to do the work but I didn’t have to do it alone. CMJTS offered encouragement and emotional and financial support. Finally, my education, internship, testing, and license application were finished. Now I needed to find a job. My weakness was resume writing and I was blessed with Janelle who is a resume wizard. Her skills gave me complete confidence with the documentation of my experience and let me focus on interviewing.
What a blessing it has been to be part of the dislocated worker program and my gratitude goes out to Michelle who started with me at CMJTS, and to Janelle who was with me until the end of the program and the beginning of my employment. I am now a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor at Teen Focus Recovery Center running the adult outpatient program. I humbly thank all involved. It took a village and I will be forever grateful.
Marty - CMJTS State Dislocated Worker Program Customer
“Most students get jobs working at fast food chains or hard labor and learn to resent them. I was able to find an amazing job that fit my schedule, skills, and interests. I also made connections I’ll have for the rest of my life. I learned important working habits such as being on time and respecting subordinates just as much as superiors – and had countless times to practice being patient. Ro made such an impact on my life, and I know that I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without the opportunity to work through CMJTS and meet the amazing people I did.”
Lukas applied for the information technology (IT) assistant position at Mora High School in 2014. Interviewers were impressed by his enthusiasm and intelligence, and he was hired for the position. Lukas was enrolled in the Minnesota Youth Program (MYP) so the Mora School District and CMJTS could split the cost of his hourly wages through the MYP Protégé Program. His work schedule was built into his school day and he provided IT assistance in the school’s media center to both faculty and students. Lukas learned work skills and additional technology skills through this experience. Both were reinforced by his mentor and supervisor Roberta “Ro” Haight.
Lukas concluded his protégé position and graduated from high school with honors on June 5, 2016. He will be starting college at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities in the fall. He plans to major in engineering.
“CMJTS offered me something I’d never expect to find in high school.”
Lukas - CMJTS Minnesota Youth Program Customer
“When I came here (CMJTS) my self-esteem was very small (making a tiny gesture with her thumb and index finger). Now I feel very strong. I feel like I can do this,”
Sharon gained many of the skills necessary to compete in today’s job search market, including interviewing skills she learned through participating in mock interviews with staff. She obtained a certificate of completion for the 360° Career Success Skills, A Soft Skills Focused Workshop, facilitated by CMJTS employment specialists. And, excitedly, Sharon is developing workplace skills through a volunteer commitment with CMJTS.
“I’m just one person (of many jobseekers) who has received this wonderful gift.”
Sharon - CMJTS Program Participant
Sharane also shared her story. Sharane worked for many years in the Willmar area. She had a wonderful job, with great pay, and it was very fulfilling. She eventually made the decision to relocate to a Wright County community.
“By the time I got here, everything I had saved to move with was dwindling.”
Sharane had worked as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at one time in her life. Sharane needed to re-certify as a CNA, which brought her to CMJTS. She started a transitional job placement at Park View Care Center as a neighborhood concierge (candy striper). Through program services, including help with the cost of training and retesting, Sharane gained her certification and is currently working full-time as a CNA at Park View.
“Dignity is one thing I got by coming to CMJTS. I get to be human again. I’m working.”
Sharane - CMJTS Adult Program Customer