By Mary Ellen Slone
As a highly successful and well respected diversified manufacturing facility based in Lexington, OWL, Inc. (Opportunity for Work and Learning™) offers a significant array of proven expertise within the high end contract manufacturing category, while being recognized as a place that’s all about second chances within a world without barriers to employment.
This amazing organization creates employment for local individuals by offering paid, real-world, on-the-job training which, when successfully completed, can provide participating individuals opportunities to transition to a job, to rebuild their self-confidence, and to enhance their chances to earn respectable wages.
David Boggs, OWL’s enthusiastic and charismatic President/CEO explained, “We partner within the communities we serve to educate and equip individuals with the tools they need to reach their vocational goals. We provide paid training and focus on each person’s particular needs and qualifications in order to correctly hone his or her job-ready skills.
“Typically, there are 90 employees in our unique 15-week basic program, who are paid wages ranging from $7.25 to $12 an hour, depending on their skill level. We have new participants arriving weekly from the Commonwealth’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation; concurrently, other individuals who have completed their 15-week paid learning requirements ‘muster out’, each having been pre-qualified for a decently-paying job.
“Central Kentucky companies needing reliable short-term project work typically ‘bid’ jobs, and frequently sub-contract with our Lexington Manufacturing Center (LMC), a division of OWL. Here our ‘portfolio of proficiencies’ include packaging, assembly, sorting, inspection, recycling, refurbishing, logistic and fulfillment services and other customer-requested assignments.”
On a fascinating tour of the vast manufacturing space (over 81,000 square feet and actually equivalent to 4 football fields) Boggs pointed out the uniquely different types of work being done by OWL employees – everything from tiny, intricate assemblage of manufactured components, to hand-soldering electronics; unpacking, re-labeling, and re-packing goods that were mislabeled by the manufacturer. OWL team members share two significantly common bonds – pride and gratitude for having been given the chance to learn a marketable trade.
An entirely self-sustaining not-for-profit entity, OWL often competes against for-profit businesses for work project assignments. Last year, 53 individuals (each having successfully completed job-ready training at OWL) successfully transitioned into the area’s workforce.
Four years ago, OWL confidently entered the “temp-to-hire” business, under the name of Commonwealth Staffing Services. This astute initiative has proven to be a ‘win-win’ for area employers and OWL graduates.
Boggs, his staff and Board members are committed to the ongoing success of OWL’s mission; accordingly, during a recent tour, the CEO proudly and often commented, “We’re all about doing good!” By way of example, he noted that the innovative SHINE program was created to help women who have been abused, homeless, or substance abuse addicted, to regain self-respect while earning a decent wage and learning a marketable skill. “As each of these women becomes job ready we work with them to enhance their newly developed, internalized self-confidence. We have an inventory of gently worn business/job appropriate clothing from which each woman can choose her ‘interview’ wardrobe; we help with instilling self-confidence, constructing a resume, and by rehearsing the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of interviewing.”
“Our male associates also benefit from our ‘how to present yourself most favorably’ make-overs and interview training. It’s amazing to watch the progress of these folks as they are rebuilding their diminished self-confidence, and mastering a viable trade which can enable them to earn a decent living to support themselves and in many cases their families; and is the most rewarding part of what we do.”
Representative of the caliber of caring which pervades this organization, the following comments are from two individuals, each of whom has first-hand-experience with this organization:
Benjamin Garcia, Quality Tech
“Opportunity for Work and Learning as an employer has been to me just that—an opportunity to work and learn or learn while I’m working. What sets this company apart from the rest is nowhere have I seen and felt the care and concern for the next person as I have seen and felt from the staff to the employees; as well as the commonality it brings. Whether you’re someone who may have a disability or not, one thing is for certain – OWL delivers a quality product. In my life, I personally have had and still have barriers, not just physical (my health is not perfect) but also mental. I used to suffer from depression and I used to think I was a ‘good for nothing’; but this place has helped me to overcome some of my barriers and has given me an awesome opportunity to work and learn so that I can be a productive citizen, which is what this place is all about. I am grateful and feel more than blessed to be part of this company.”
Bruce Walcott, OWL Board Director
“Clearly, OWL is helping our community by providing real-world experience for Kentuckians who have a barrier to entering the workforce. OWL also enhances the overall economic well-being of our area by providing quality manufacturing and other services for local companies such as Schneider, Trane, Webasto, Pilkington, MCI, Alltech, AdColor and others.”
to the ongoing need for well-trained Customer Service Representatives in many different industries, OWL has created a 6-12 week course of study and practice. When successfully completed, this career milestone will result in receiving a nationally recognized certification and will prepare participants to qualify for customer service positions in a host of industries including call centers, retail, manufacturing or any business that utilizes customer service.
According to OWL team members Margaret Agee and Lisa Vest, “Within this initiative, OWL’s approved training program will be available to receive referrals through the Kentucky Office for Employment and Training (OET) or Workforce Development*. We will thoroughly train participants within a self-paced curriculum, using a variety of teaching tools for all learning styles. According to current labor market research, the Customer Service field will grow over 18% within the next 5 years, and this program will teach marketable job skills to qualify for employment in this fast-growing sector.
“We have purchased a nationally recognized on-line training course, but are providing the training in a classroom setting for the benefit of an in-class learning environment, with tutoring and group activities to maximize the training experience. A typical group session will include a two-week training module with class assignments, video segments, roll playing, and ample opportunities for those in attendance to hone their skills.” Agee, the Center Director states, “Upon successful completion of this course, our participants will be referred to local partnering companies for employment opportunities.”
Individuals who are accepted into the program must be 18 or older, drug free, have no violent or felony background, and be able to present two valid forms of identification.
“We are excited to be able to offer this learning experience because it’s in keeping with Opportunity for Work and Learning’s mission, which is to partner within communities to educate and equip individuals with barriers to employment to reach their vocational goals!”
Interested in learning more? Contact Margaret Agee or Lisa Vest at 859-254-0576 or email at [email protected] or [email protected]
*Private pay is accepted and scholarships may be available to reduce the cost for individuals who wish to enter without a referral from OET.