Work rehabilitation program serving four different segments of the vulnerable adult population.
Baker Industries is a diverse and inclusive 41-year-old nonprofit workforce development program that provides hope and opportunity for low/no income vulnerable adults – individuals challenged with disability, parole/probation, substance use disorder, and homelessness. Our purpose is to integrate these individuals into the workforce through regular work at one of our two industrial facilities in an accepting and trauma-informed environment. Program participants are paid a real wage while learning fundamental work and collaboration skills and participate (while still getting paid) in workshops, counseling, and coaching designed to foster self-esteem and job readiness. On average we engage approximately 200 individuals each year from the Philadelphia region in our program. Over our history an average of 49 participants progress to better work in the regular economy, becoming independent and productive members of our community.
About one-third of our participants are challenged with disabilities that limit their capability to move on to other work. For these individuals, Baker provides longer term employment and a community of caring. We believe we are unique in blending individuals with diverse challenges in a single workforce development program. We are proud to serve individuals who can transition from Baker as well as those for whom Baker is an ongoing place of meaningful work and community.
A core tenet of our program is to pay a real wage – at least the federal minimum wage – to our program participants. Participants are paid even when they are engaged in training and counseling activities that are provided in our trauma-informed program. This is highly unusual among workforce development programs and removes the financial hurdle individuals might face if asked to choose between paid work and unpaid development training activity.
Our decades long impact in the community is clear. Over 11,000 low/no income vulnerable adults have benefitted by participating in our program and found new hope and opportunity. Over 2,000 individuals have progressed to better employment and an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and dependence that has defined so many of their lives. Families and communities have been strengthened. Baker Industries changes lives.
Challenges from 2020 and COVID-19
A crisis does not create strength and fortitude – it reveals it. The pandemic of 2020 caused disruption and dislocation across our entire community of vulnerable adults, dedicated staff, valued donors, regular customers, and local employers. Threats to health and safety, closure of schools and businesses as well as the extreme isolation caused by quarantines and social distancing created a severe test for our unique 40-year-old workforce development program.
Faced with the challenge of guarding health and safety while restoring our operations, we summoned resilience and innovation to find new ways to support the low income, hard-to-employ adults we serve. During the early days of the crisis, when our facilities were required to close, we quickly raised and distributed a Participant Relief Fund to bridge our workers to government benefits. We called each participant every week to provide encouragement, help them connect to additional aid, and simply express concern. As our facilities reopened in early summer, we developed new safety protocols and workflows to meet CDC guidelines and allow us to operate safely. We have been open safely and without interruption since early June 2020!
In a year when many community, social services and government offices were closed, we stayed open to offer support and proved paid work opportunity and innovative training for 147 individuals. We partnered closely with customers and employers through the economic downturn, resulting in 22 placements with local businesses – and – the third of our population challenged by significant disability continued to find work, income, and community within our caring workplace. While 2020 was certainly not our biggest year, it was among our most gratifying.