Rhino Foods, which makes cookie dough and other fillings for ice cream, has long sought to be welcomed by workers.
The company has made it a policy to hire refugees and other New Americans, and it uses a coach to help workers meet needs such as transportation and child care. Rhino even makes short-term and emergency loans available to staff.
And Rhino strives to be a workplace that is easy to recover – that is, a company that provides support for employees who have been laid off due to addiction, involvement in the correctional system or other problems.
The concept of a recovery-friendly, or “inclusive,” workplace has been gaining attention recently, in part because of the acceleration of the drug crisis. Opioid misuse rose nationwide and in Vermont during the first two years of the pandemic, according to public health reports. Opioid -related deaths rose in Vermont from 56 in 2011 to 215 last year. A federal study reported that drug use cost the U.S. economy $ 94 billion in missed jobs in 2019.
Rhino found staff through Working Fields, a South Burlington -based mission -based employment agency that provides training, coaches and other assistance for people with a history of substance use or legal convictions. . And two years ago, Rhino hired a full-time recovery coach, someone trained in helping people find the support they need to stay on the job.
Rhino isn’t the only Vermont business looking for ways to accommodate more people trying to re -enter the workforce while in recovery. South Burlington’s Best Western Plus Windjammer Inn & Conference Center signed up with Working Fields earlier this year to fill the position at the restaurant. The center hired the worker temporarily for several weeks and recently offered him a permanent job, said Stacy Brockmyre, director of human resources for Windjammer Hospitality Group.
“He was wonderful; he showed up every single day on time, and he never missed a day’s work,” Brockmyre said. “He was able to accommodate our schedule.”
“Many of the people who benefit from an inclusive hiring approach are really talented workers who deserve the opportunity, like everyone else, to have a job,” said Rhino vice president Rooney Castle. “We’re thinking about how we can use our position as an employer not just to make money but to benefit our employees and the community around us.”
Tammy Bushell, director of human resources at Edlund in Burlington, rode the recovery-friendly movement in the workplace after she watched her 25-year-old son experience substance-use disorder in 2017. Bushell set out to reduce the stigma of addiction.
“As an employer, I want to support people in recovery, hoping that when my child is ready to get a job, there will be other employers there to support people who are having a hard time,” he said. niya. Bushell is certified as a recovery coach; her son is recovering and has a job.
People rebuilding their lives often lack necessities like transportation or housing, says Jason Siegel, a recovery coach for Working Fields. There employers and coaches can help people in the early stages of getting back to work.
“I can’t imagine the soberness of living in a homeless shelter,” Siegel said.
Scheduling can also cause problems. Some people in recovery or involved in the criminal justice system are required to attend meetings, counseling or medical appointments during the day. Working Fields encourages employers to be flexible in scheduling.
“That time period won’t last forever,” Siegel said. “Even with people who have to go to the methadone clinic a few times a week, they get to the point where things are stable and they no longer ask for those reliefs.”
Montpelier nonprofit Recovery Vermont provides training for managers on how to create an inclusive work environment, and it runs the Vermont Recovery Coach Academy, whose graduates are certified to help 12,000 people emerging from treatment use of drugs in Vermont each year. The nonprofit’s interim director, Melissa Story, said it’s not just employers who benefit when people return to the workforce; the work itself can play a role in helping people rebuild their lives.
“Having a purpose is really important to everyone,” said Story, who has recovered from alcohol and drug abuse for 10 years. He said starting work again after a long hiatus has healed.
“It feels good to contribute to society and be a part of something,” Story said. “Addiction is very separate.”
Ideally, he added, Recovery Vermont would someday create the kind of workplace -recovery certification program that has been easy to recover conducted in New Hampshire since 2018. That state has half a dozen “navigators” assisting companies that get initiatives in the workplace that can easily recover from the ground up. , and it offers special designation for companies with policies that assist employees in recovery.
Working Fields founder Mickey Wiles appreciates New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu.
“He really believes in workplaces that are easy to recover,” Wiles said. “He allocated resources and staff to it and, from the top down, put in place the infrastructure to support it.”
Wiles added that Vermont leads New Hampshire in many areas of substance use treatment. But Recovery Vermont did not receive the kind of funding needed to match what its neighboring state did.
“In this one particular area, New Hampshire made that investment,” Wiles said.
Some efforts to change are underway. Rep. Logan Nicoll (D-Ludlow) partnered with advocates last winter on legislation that would drive money to Recovery Vermont. But it was too late in the session to get traction, he said. If re -elected, he plans to try again next year.
“People in recovery are an often overlooked subset of the workforce,” Nicoll said. “Looks like a worthy program for me.”
Right now, Recovery Vermont is focused on certifying recovery coaches and training business leaders in inclusivity. The nonprofit makes a tool kit with materials that will help employers adopt easy -to -recover policies.
“Sometimes just knowing [that] social activities don’t have to revolve around alcohol, ”said Lisa Lord, director of Recovery Vermont’s workforce programs.
Other public and private entities are also trying to do more of this work. Working Fields has raised money from investors since last year to expand its reach. The agency, which has five offices, helped 265 people find jobs at 62 Vermont employers last year. Wiles, who is in recovery from opioid addiction, wants to double the number of individuals placed in jobs within the next year. The goal is for workers to find permanent employment.
In job interviews, Bushell said, he often tells prospective workers that Edlund – who makes small appliances for commercial kitchens – is actively trying to help people who want to move to a new phase of their life. She is talking about her son. In return, he said, job applicants often tell him they have recently been released from jail or have a relative recovering.
“I’m saying,‘ I know the weather is hard, and if there’s anything we can do to support you, we’re here, ’” Bushell said.
That kind of acceptance – and more practical help with things like flexible schedules – can make the difference between working or not, says Siegel of Working Fields.
“These are the people who get up at four in the morning,” he said. “A lot of these jobs aren’t good to start. But they’re willing to do these jobs.”