Deseret Industries: It's about the people, not the stuff

Published: Wednesday, July 17 2013 7:30 p.m. MDT

“We’re not training them to work in our store,” said Brent Palmer, manager of field operations for the entire Deseret Industries system. “We’re trying to give them skills that will help them find a better job somewhere else. Unlike most retail operations, we actually want turnover. We want them to learn and grow and improve and move on to something better.”

To that end, the DI program includes a support team that works one-on-one with each associate.

“The store manager is ultimately responsible for how well folks do in his or her store,” Palmer said. In Mecham’s case, that means he is responsible for 160 associates at any given time — a responsibility he does not take lightly, especially since he is a product of the Deseret Industries system himself. “I worked at DI while I was going to college,” he said. “And I kept coming back. Something about the spirit of the place, and how it makes such a different in people’s lives. I just always wanted to be part of this.”

As manager, Mecham says his priorities are clear. “My bosses want to make sure every associate is receiving the mentoring, training and experience they need,” he said. “They also worry a lot about customer service. But as far as sales are concerned, as long as we’re making enough to cover our expenses they’re OK with that.”

“We’re not here to make money, and we’re not here to just provide employment,” Mecham continued. “Those are good, worthwhile objectives. It’s just not what we’re about.”

Working under the direction of store managers and assistant managers are job coaches, who work with the associates in their respective areas of the store, teaching skills and providing training through meaningful daily interaction. Each store also has a development specialist, a licensed counselor in a field like vocational rehabilitation or social work, who works closely with each associate to help them assess needs and create plans for lifetime success and independence.

There is also support coming from the associate’s bishop (every associate, whether LDS or not, is referred to the program by an LDS bishop), who not only meets with the individual on a regular basis, but who also assigns a mentor to maintain close contact with them even beyond the time they are working at Deseret Industries.

“This is a comprehensive and robust approach to training,” said Layne Daybell, manager of development services for the DI system. “We don’t want bishops to just send individuals to us. We want them to invest in those individuals.”

For Stacy, this investment was important.

“I was stunned,” she said. “I had more support than I thought I had. There were all these people around me, interested in me and helping me. It made me feel like, with their help and support, I could accomplish something.”

With input and training from her support system, Stacy decided she wanted to become a receptionist. The DI Advanced Placement Program helped pay for classes at the Davis Applied Technology College in nearby Kaysville that sharpened her job skills. It also paid her wages while she got on the job training.

“Working at DI is not just a job,” Mecham said. “It’s a whole program aimed at helping people improve their lives. We give them training, we have job coaches to help them learn, we help them take classes and get on the job training and then we pay them while they take the skills we’ve given them and look for better jobs.”

According to Mecham, 88 percent of the people who follow the whole program, all the way to the Advanced Placement Program, leave Deseret Industries for better jobs.

“Our job is to train someone so well that they get so good at their job and become so useful and effective that they will find a better job and leave,” Mecham said. “And we want to do that for as many associates as we possibly can.”

The number of associates that can participate in DI programs increased dramatically earlier this year when DI officials at church headquarters established limitations on the number of hours associates can work each week. By limiting those hours, Deseret Industries has been able to significantly increase the number of associates who can be added to the program.

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