The Minnesota Association for Persons in Supported Employment (MAPSE) presented Surepak with its small metro employer of the year award on April 14. This company, which manufactures plastic packaging peanuts, was recognized for being a leader in creating employment opportunities for adults with disabilities. CHOICE Inc., a Twin Cities nonprofit organization that helps match area business needs with the skills and abilities of adults with disabilities, nominated Surepak for the award.
According to Surepak General Manager Kent Pitman, CHOICE, Inc. helped him solve a big problem–the inability to retain good employees. Employees at Surepak bag the peanuts and load them onto semi-trucks, a task many people don’t feel challenged by. Pitman considered someone who stayed on the job for more than two months a success story. “We sometimes had people leaving for lunch and never coming back on their first day,” Pitman said.
CHOICE Inc. helped Pitman create a workforce of 15 new employees that shows up for work every day and actually looks forward to the day ahead. “CHOICE workers come to work with a bright outlook,” Pitman said. “They don’t come to work dreading packaging peanuts, but look forward to doing a good job.”
Surepak full-time employees are also more upbeat about their own jobs because of an extraordinary sense of teamwork and cooperation with employees from CHOICE, according to Pitman. The result is increased productivity.
CHOICE, Inc. job coach Chris Lee works alongside the 15 new employees at Surepak, He noticed how successfully Pitman integrated the workers. Also, he suggested Surepak be considered for the award and helped write the nomination. “We really feel like part of Surepak,” Lee said. “Surepak has gone above and beyond from day one in creating a team environment.”
Surepak Plant Manager Leon Smith had a big part in creating the team environment, according to Lee. Smith serves as a mentor to these supported employees and has developed new ways to show them how to do their jobs better and with a greater degree of safety. He is impressed with the results, so much so that he chose not to hire another full-time employee.
In fact, Pitman said the Surepak plant has never had a problem keeping pace with the demand of orders since employees from CHOICE started working there about a year ago. He said, “If CHOICE ever closed, I’d probably try very hard to find some way to keep operating with these employees.”