Bluco Launches Supported Employment Program

Meet our first team of employees

Our marketing team recently had the pleasure of finding out more about Bluco’s new Supported Employment Program (SEP) from Jack, Mike and Ryan. These three young men have been an official part of the Bluco team for just over five months. They took us through part of their typical day in the shop and taught us a few new skills.  

First, we caught up with their Bluco job coaches, Stacey Anderson and Alison Grumbles, to learn more about the program, its origins and its goals.

What is the Supported Employment Program?

“SEP is the next step in the vocational training program that Bluco initially supported in partnership with Naperville School District 204 several years ago,” says Alison. The program provided on-site vocational training to interested high school students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “Bluco regularly had 15-20 high school students here in the facility, getting a taste of what a manufacturing job might be like.”

Learn more about the high school’s post-secondary program here

The Supported Employment Program takes this concept a step further, by providing part-time employment for qualified individuals. “Bluco wanted to continue to provide support to this large group of families within our local community. Taking our initial commitment beyond its original scope is allowing us to do that,” explains Stacey.

Where did this idea come from?

The group that Stacey mentioned is one that Bluco’s own Scott Ellig is quite familiar with. He and his family are part of it. Scott is a foundational team member at Bluco and has been helping us to Make it Better for over 30 years. His son Jack, who is now part of the SEP program, helped pilot the launch of the new program by testing everything out so we could work out the kinks during the early stages of the initiative.

These specialized workstations are well lit, include space for tacking up visual aids, and help the employees stay organized.

When Scott first proposed the program, not only was Jack on board, but the whole company embraced it. Engineers provided special workstations, and the manufacturing department designed and machined adaptive devices that help our employees get their work done.

“Our ultimate goal was to help fill the large gap faced by individuals and their families as students aged out of vocational training provided by traditional post-secondary channels.”

The gap she’s talking about opens up quite suddenly. Kids who’ve been supported by schools and vocational training all their lives reach the end of those programs at age 22.

“Too often this time in their lives leaves a void of time to fill. These young adults are not-yet prepared to live on their own, further their education, or independently tackle a full-time job,” says Stacey. “Bluco’s Supported Employment Program helps individuals find their new purpose and gives them the opportunity to learn new skills that help them grow.” 

We caught up with the SEP team at their customized workstations that were designed to help them accomplish their tasks and manage their space. 

Rolling up our sleeves to learn from Jack, Mike and Ryan

Our first stop was at Jack’s station, where we learned how to assemble two-piece connection bolts. Jack explained what to do, and then demonstrated.

When our marketing department volunteer got hers assembled correctly (on the second try), Jack cheered. He went on to tell us that he makes dozens of these bolts in one sitting.

Jack shows how to use the adaptive devices made by our machinists to slip O-rings onto a bolt.
Toe clamp assembly – Jack makes it look easy!

Then it was on to assembling toe clamps. Like the connection bolts, every part is QC’d after assembly, and every task offers a new skill-building opportunity. The toe clamp assembly provides an opportunity to practice manual dexterity, and to build spatial relation skills. Plus, it gives our stock room a few more sets of trained hands to get work done faster.

Learn more about Bluco’s Modular Welding Systems

Mike took over at the next station, patiently showing us how to assemble spacer sets to be shelved for inventory. This task involves assembling, sorting and stacking 17 parts in order. Mike made sure we got our spacers in order from smallest to largest, pausing to reference the laminated guide in front of him much less than our marketing volunteer did.

Then it was Ryan’s turn to teach, showing us how to clean Swing Clamps that were recently returned from our Rental Program. This particular task is Ryan’s favorite, and we quickly saw why — it was pretty satisfying to see how clean we were able to get the bright yellow handles. Ryan removed all the old stickers and had several clamps looking like new in no time.

Mike explains spacer post assembly.
Ryan cleaning clamps at his station.

All in a day’s work

At the end of the process at each station, the finished parts are shelved and re-inventoried to Bluco’s used part stock. As they reshelved parts, the employees shared a few favorite moments and tasks from their time in the SEP program.

Mike shelves completed spacer posts.

All three pointed out that one of their favorite tasks is looking through trade journals to find Bluco ads and articles to share with the staff.

See a Bluco Case Study our SEP employees found in The Fabricator

And beyond the daily tasks, there are plenty of funny moments that this team has shared together. Jack remembered the time he got mud from an on-site excavation all over the bottom of his shoe. He tried wiping it off and transferred part of the mess to his gloved hand. He showed us exactly how it went down, and we laugh. “Wait – it gets funnier,” he tells us. As Stacey was helping him get the rest of the mud off his shoe, he put his hand on her shoulder for support…leaving a perfect mud print on her back.

Stacey looks at Ryan and asks him if he remembers what he said as she was standing back up and complaining about her aching back after the incident, “oh yeah,” Ryan says, “you’re getting old!”

The group runs through more memories, laughing as they recall the times they’ve shared. It’s clear that both coaches and employees love what they do, and the peers they get to work with.

Ryan, Mike and Jack work hard, but you can tell they also enjoy what they do.

SEP Makes it Better for everyone

As we wrap up, Alison sums up the importance of the program. “We are providing a ‘what’s next’ for these kids. And that helps more than the individual. It helps the family, the community and Bluco. We are Making it Better together,” she says, citing the tagline we live by. “This is all about putting people first, making a difference, and leaving things better than we found them. Those things are in our corporate DNA statement. This program helps us bring those values to life. And in the process, we hope we’re giving these young people a greater opportunity to have a successful life.”

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