Eighteen of Lee County’s residents with disabilities are gainfully employed thanks to a temporary internship program that introduced potential team members to Tyson Foods’ Mexican Original plant.
Mexican Original was among several area businesses that welcomed Lee County Industries (LCI) clients, putting eight of them to work in its Sanford plant for the federally-funded 15-week program. “Through the internship program, Mexican Original saw the level of support that LCI provides to its clients, including helping them learn and perform their job responsibilities,” says Meg Moss, LCI’s executive director.
Therefore, when the company needed full-time labor for second and third shifts, LCI was on the top of the call list for potential candidates, said Shayne Bevier, human resources manager at Mexican Original. A total of 18 LCI clients have been hired since February, he said.
“Over the last year we were able to find qualified team members who just wanted an opportunity,” Bevier said. “This has proven to be an excellent opportunity for Mexican Original to show its dedication to the residents of Lee County.”
LCI’s clients weren’t given any preferential treatment, though. “They went through the interview process just like any other candidates,” says Ginny Connolly-Manhardt, director of careers and rehabilitation at LCI. Once hired, the clients also had to meet the same production standards as every other worker.
However, there is one unique service that LCI provides its clients: A dedicated job coach who accompanies clients to job interviews and helps them get up-to-speed on all aspects of their positions — all paid for by LCI. The coach also works one-on-one with clients to help them with the social aspects of working on the line, Moss notes. When the client is ready, the job coach moves on to work with other clients.
And Mexican Original did more than just hire LCI’s clients. “Shayne Bevier and his assistant, Susan Gomez, were instrumental in helping establish a culture that welcomes workers from LCI and helps them feel comfortable,” Connolly-Manhardt says.
All LCI’s clients have ever asked for is the chance to prove that they can do the job just like traditional workers, Connolly-Manhardt points out. LCI encourages more local businesses to follow Mexican Original’s lead in encouraging and welcoming employees with disabilities.
Tyson Foods is the nation’s second leading tortilla producer. The company’s Mexican Original operations produce seven to nine million pounds of tortillas per week at plants in Fayetteville, Arkansas; Portland, Indiana, and Sanford, North Carolina.