The unique mentality at Haley House Bakery and Cafe, a socially conscious Boston-based non-profit, aims at imparting lifelong skills to disadvantaged people. But in order to meet those goals, Bing Broderick, bakery director, is forced to tackle an unusual set of obstacles.
The bakery’s purpose is to create economic sustainability for under-employed, low-income people in difficult social situations, many of whom are trying to get their lives back on track after trouble with substance abuse or crime.
“Baking is a field in which people with criminal records can realistically find gainful employment,” Broderick says. “But there are some challenges that our trainees face that are pretty serious. So, we require nine months of sobriety and stable housing, plus we have an unpaid two-week trial period to make sure that the trainee is a good match and is willing to make a commitment.”
Once accepted into the six-month program, trainees work 20 hours a week at $7.50 per hour. Trainees are introduced to basic kitchen skills before moving on to baking-related tasks.
“We often get referrals from parole officers, social services, etc., and we prefer referral because there’s someone to call if there is a problem,” Broderick says. “We are really looking for people who are motivated and really want to get job skills.”
The variety of skill levels that different people bring to the table can present a challenge, as different trainees have different levels of experience. The first month of the program is devoted to equalizing trainees’ skill levels.
During the first month, trainees learn their way around a kitchen. This includes developing knife skills, organizing a workspace, prepping ingredients and basic sanitation procedures. By the end of the second month, with trainees growing more confident, they begin to learn more baking-specific skills, such as mixing and sheeting. At this point, trainees begin to determine their own path and select which bakery products to learn from start to finish.
“People tend to gravitate toward a certain thing, and we try to enhance that in whatever way we can,” Broderick adds. “It’s not a rigid program.”
Toward the end of the six-month program, trainees begin working in the Haley House Cafe. Trainees are now out of the back and in front of customers, sharpening customer relation and cashier skills. After completing the program, 85 percent of trainees go on to find full- or part-time jobs.
“It’s important that we are providing real on the job training,” Broderick says. “We are always producing.”