Value Creation - Experience - Commitment
CALIFORNIA Press-Telegram May 26, 1998

Welfare-to-work hiring starts slowly
PUSH: Omni trains addicts and homeless

By Michael White, Associated Press

CARSON - Two years ago April Herrera was living the nightmare life of a heroin addict, homeless and using her welfare check to help support a 15-year habit.
Nowadays, she’s a model employee at a fast-growing computer products company, recently promoted and optimistic about her future.
Herrera, 38 is among dozens of workers who benefited from a policy at Omni Computer Products that focuses on hiring the down and out.
About one-third of the company’s employees have been recruited through parole offices, halfway houses, homeless shelters and Alcoholics Anonymous.
After they join the payroll, Omni supports them with training programs, motivational seminars and, in some cases, loans.
In return, such workers have helped Omni, which recycles and markets ink cartridges for computer printers, reach $25.5 million in sales during 1997.
“I had enough people here who really cared about me,” Herrera said during a recent interview.
The architect of the policy is Omni president and chief executive Gerald Chamales, who fought his own battle with drug and alcohol addiction before founding the company in 1980. He started the hiring policy 12 years ago.
“I guess you could say we recycle human beings,” said Chamales.
Among those who stay on the job for more than six months, the retention rate for disadvantaged workers is 26 percent, compared to a 16 percent rate for others, Chamales said.
Omni recruiters look for indications that prospective workers are committed to bettering their lives.
Chamales argues others could emulate his policy with enough commitment and patience.
Training classes must start with the basics: how to dress, how to speak to a client or colleague, how to shake hands and look someone in the eye.
Costs can be high: Omni has $250,000 out in loans to workers who lost credit or built up debt.
Nevertheless, the policy has made his company stronger, Chamales says.
When you get the right people they will give you 300 percent because they’re so desperate to rebuild their lives,” he said.