James Rudder is a really cool guy. He greets each employee by name, jokes around with his staff, and seems to always have his office door open so he can say hi to people passing by.
James is the owner of L & R Pallet, a Denver company that employs 67 refugees from Burma. James and his staff have reached a point where there is mutual understanding between the management and workers, everyone knows what their job is and how to do it, and people seem to be satisfied with their work life. It hasn’t always been this way though. To reach this place of success, James and his staff had to do a lot of foundation work to understand the culture of their new employees while reconstructing their training program to fit the Southeast Asian learning style.
After a few failed attempts to hire refugees, in October of 2013, James brought on a group of seven men who had been in America for a few years. “This was the game changer.” James said, “My mistake before had been hiring just one or two, this time I hired seven and the community dynamic between these guys ensured that they felt comfortable and welcome.” The majority of those original seven are still employed today.
“We want to create an environment that people want to be in.” James says, “Simple things like handing out perfect attendance certificates, recognizing a great worker or someone’s birthday makes a huge difference.”
One major issue they had early on was communication. The workers didn’t understand the tools they were using, and even though the interpreters were repeating the rules and directions, they themselves didn’t understand what it meant to handle these dangerous tools. The management soon realized that having visuals would help enormously. The training period went from being three days to six weeks long. If you walk into their training room, you will see drawings on the wall, x-rays of unfortunate individuals who injured themselves with a nail gun, a replica of work stations where trainees can observe how each tool works, then do it themselves while being instructed by a manager.
- Bobby McDaniel with the crew leaders
When James first started hiring people from Burma, he didn’t realize how many languages they spoke. Having someone interpret to Burmese wasn’t enough. After a survey, he found that his staff spoke 17 different languages altogether. Today, he knows who speaks Karen, who speaks Burmese, who speaks Karenni, and he is able to communicate effectively with them because he knows this simple information.
“I’m thrilled with where we are as a company.” James says. And they should be. Management is always striving to make things better for their employees. The staff recently requested a raise, English classes, and soccer. “I gave them a raise, we arranged for Liz to come and teach English, but I’m still trying to figure out the soccer piece.”
- Liz in action. She teaches 4 days a week after the shift ends.
English classes seems to be the game changer. One of the hardest things for newly arrived refugees is learning the language. With only 3-6 months to study before entering the workforce, many never get the chance to dedicate time to language. The fact that L & R sees this need and desires to meet it sets them apart from the other businesses. A few employees who left the company to find a better job have returned because L & R offers English. Our ESL teacher, Liz, is teaching two levels of classes four days a week after the shift ends. There are currently about 20 students enrolled.
We are so thankful to have this partnership with James, Bobby, Alan and all the staff at L & R Pallet. It is important for us to take a moment to share the great work that these guys are doing. They are truly exemplifying our vision: a world in which all people are valued, included, and empowered.
- The Burma staff