It was only my second day as a mover when I was sent on a pack job. I was with two other guys. They’d been with the company a while, so it seemed totally natural when one asked me to label his carton of picture frames for him.
“Here, just use my marker,” I said, holding it out for him.
He just stared at it.
“He doesn’t label boxes,” the other guy said.
What he meant was, he couldn’t label boxes. My fellow packer was functionally illiterate.
But boy, could he pack a house.
Six months later, after moving to a warehouse position for the company’s larger facility up the road, I met Javier. Javier spoke no English, so he’d never make it to crew leader. Heck, he’d never make it above his D-grade pay scale because he didn’t even have a driver’s license. But he was always on time, even when he had to bike through the Colorado snow to get to work. Javier never stood around when there was something that could be done. He never caused even the slightest problem. He was there before I started and was there when I left. He is as consistent a worker as they come.
As an operations manager, I saw plenty of guys come in to fill out an application. A good percentage of them brought their wives or girlfriends to translate because they didn’t speak any English. As much as I appreciate Javier, I was hesitant to hire anyone who couldn’t drive or write or communicate with the customer and half the other crew. And this is an extreme case as well, as many people are routinely turned away for as little as not having an address – that is, they are homeless.
As each one walked away I wondered who and what I might have just missed out on.
Hiring Outside the Box
The Johnson County Public Library in Franklin, IN needed a few good men to do some heavy lifting during their inside renovation. Their first idea was to call a moving company, but then they found they could save a chunk of taxpayer money by going through a work program at a nearby correctional facility.
Granted, the job was just temporary and the inmates were highly supervised. And saving money was also a clear factor. But the idea that these men will eventually be out and looking for work is the big driving force behind the program.
When guys do get out of jail, finding employment is not easy. This is not difficult to believe.
It’s much harder to believe that these same guys will turn out to be some of your best employees. But that is exactly what employers like Gary Allen Washington think. The Columbia, SC businessman hires non-violent felons to work for his furniture moving operation, boldly titled Felons R Us.
“Some of the people we engage for moving furniture and lawn maintenance, they’re 25 to 30 years (away from) a felony from fighting someone at 22 years old,” Washington says. “Now they’re 45 or 50 years old, but that same felony will stop them from working with UPS. They can’t get a job (with) the state (of South Carolina). They can’t even go on a military installation.”
Washington doesn’t neglect due diligence. Before he hires, employees are “screened via a full background check and drug test. They are then trained by the company in moving skills and customer service, and they are strictly supervised on the jobs by non-convicted supervisors.”
Midlands Technical College student employment services director Sarah Trice chips in with some advice for those with felony convictions trying to get hired: “(They) must first be honest with employers about their records without offering too much detail – or any sob stories. They should take responsibility…while assuring the employer they have learned from the mistake and can offer value to their company.”
This goes back to the idea of balancing in-person with on paper impressions. To move forward with this issue, there has to be a more mindful effort by employers.
Moving Into a New Home
Boyle Street Community Services was already in the practice of assisting homeless and otherwise struggling individuals in Edmonton, Canada when they began their new moving service. Using a hire-from-within strategy, the Boyle Street Moving Company has been able to give a few young, homeless people the chance to gain some valuable work experience. This is something that Damien Lachat, Boyle Street Youth Entrepreneurship Coordinator, says is hard to come by. “If you don’t have an address, it’s hard to get anybody to hire you.”
The hesitance to hire someone without a physical address is understandable. Addresses are forever interconnected with the moving industry, after all. Bringing people into the workplace and into our customers’ homes when we don’t even know where they’re going at the end of the day is a discomforting prospect at best, no matter how well they present.
Yet more employers are seeing this as an opportunity. RedTail Coffee was started with the purpose of helping some people caught in the cyclical trap of homelessness while at the same time making a statement: that homeless people are not necessarily lazy, nor are they homeless by choice.
That they are turning a profit? They see that as a bonus.
“So we should start trying to hire ‘unemployable’ people?”
That’s still the moving company’s call, and it’s still tough. One avenue to realizing this goal could be attending a job fair aimed at the homeless and recently incarcerated, like the one held in San Francisco in July. Or these in Houston, Binghamton, NY, Chicago and Denver. Such job fairs usually involve extra elements of work-search preparation, like resume-writing, interview skills workshops and even personal hygiene. It’s reasonable to think that those willing to go through this kind of process really do want to work.
Making it Back Home
One group of people that should have no trouble finding work are our armed forces veterans. Yet there are by some counts as high as half a million unemployed.
For a quick but comprehensive overview of the issues veterans face during their transition from military service to civilian life, check this piece by Shad Meshad, a former US Army Medical Officer and pioneer in the treatment of PTSD.
Considering the stress, the trauma, the physical ailments and the psychological issues it becomes much less of a mystery why there are so many homeless veterans. In response, an appreciable number of people in our industry have stepped up.
Jesse Gartman is a former Marine who started his own moving company after working as a mover post-military and sees veterans as the perfect employees.
“Trust, integrity, a little bit of muscle, foresight, intuition. These [are the] kinds of things that we were taught in the military,” Gartman explains. “Discipline, responsibility…(T)hese are very, very important to uphold such a high level of customer satisfaction.”
Gartman’s company, Veteran Movers NYC, is just one of many moving companies heavily involved with hiring veterans. “Veterans R Moving Us” of Dallas, TX, “Rent A Vet” in St. Louis, MO, “Veteran Movers LLC” in Plymouth, MN and “Florida Veteran Movers” of Miami, FL are just a few of the moving companies out there giving a hand to our veterans by letting them lend their hands to others.
We understand that first and foremost, moving is a business, not a charity. The thing is, hiring someone when it requires a little faith is not charity. It’s just giving someone a chance. Someone who might have few options. Someone who might work their tail off for you.
Yes, we need to be diligent in all aspects of our business, and that includes looking at potential hires.
And when looking at potential hires, like all other aspects of business, it still remains true that service is always about the people.