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!