Vermont employers are turning to a growing applicant base to fill vacancies: people in recovery from substance use disorders.
The Burlington company Edlund, a manufacturer of professional-grade kitchen equipment like tongs, heavy-duty can openers, scales and slicers makes it a point to consider people in recovery for open positions.
"I’m taking steps to better my life," said Hunter Stetson, an Edlund employee who added that he appreciates the second chance the company gave him.
Stetson is in recovery from alcohol use disorder, and used to dabble in some drugs, too, he said. When necn interviewed him the last week in April, he said he was nine months sober and living in a sober house.
"I had no joy or purpose or meaning in life, really, and I didn’t feel good about myself," Stetson recalled, describing the time he spent abusing alcohol and drugs. "I knew I wasn’t doing the right thing, but I just couldn’t stop."
Stetson added that he does find joy and purpose in his life now—including through his job at Edlund.
Chuck Hafter is an employment counselor at the Turning Point Center of Chittenden County, a substance-free space supporting people through all stages of recovery.
"There’s been a big change in the past several years in Vermont," Hafter observed of the culture around hiring people in recovery.
Grants from the state labor and health departments have Hafter working with Turning Point’s guests to address possible gaps in their resumes and build interview skills.
Hafter sends people to mostly entry-level and just-above entry level positions, he said, and connected Stetson to Edlund.
"A lot of people go out and get jobs and they don’t want to pay taxes—they hate it," Hafter said. "A lot of my people go out and get jobs and they say, 'I'm contributing to my community now!'"
Hafter acknowledged some work may simply not be the right fit for folks with certain criminal offenses from when they were using drugs.
However, the job counselor said many positions—including cooking and kitchen work—are open to the full range of job-seekers.
Tammy Bushell, Edlund's head of human resources, said the low unemployment rate in the Burlington area means she would likely still have vacancies if she didn’t embrace applicants from the recovery community, referred by Turning Point.
"This is a chance for them to start over," Bushell said of the handful of workers she recently hired from Hafter’s referrals, including Stetson.
When asked if some companies may still be uncomfortable with the idea of hiring people in recovery, Bushell agreed.
"I would say they're missing a great opportunity for some great people," the hiring manager countered.
Edlund even helped design a toolkit that soon will be made available to employers statewide, providing them with resources on hiring people in recovery.
Later this month, the Chittenden County Opioid Alliance plans to launch the toolkit, calling it "instrumental" for employers to learn about substance use disorders and how to hire and retain people who have them.
The CCOA also plans to give presentations about the toolkit and second-chance hiring practices at two business conferences in the Burlington area this month, the group said in a recent newsletter.
Jolinda LaClair, Gov. Phil Scott’s director of drug prevention policy, predicted that toolkit, with information on accommodating workers and understanding specific health care needs, will be a boost for companies that have struggled to find and retain employees.
"We believe the contributions can be significant," LaClair said of the potential for people in recovery to join the state’s workforce in greater numbers. "Vermont has a workforce problem, and people in recovery need a job. This is a win-win for the state of Vermont."
As for Hunter Stetson, he said he hopes to move up the ranks at Edlund, adding that he is grateful for the faith his bosses placed in him.
"I know that, right now, I’m on the right path, and I’m glad they took a chance on me, for sure," Stetson said.