Employing people with limited options – Nothing we do is more important
At Goodwill, the collection and sale of used goods has always been a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The organization grew out of an effort to provide an earned income stream for unemployed people – most of them recent immigrants – in the south end of Boston at the beginning of the 20th century. Jobs were scarce, and there was no government safety net. The founder of Goodwill, Edgar Helms, went to the wealthy areas of Boston and asked people to give him the goods they no longer wanted. He put people to work repairing the goods, sold the goods to the public, and used the money to pay wages to the workers.
Today, at Goodwill Industries in central Indiana, we have nearly 2,500 employees, over 1,400 of whom work in our retail system. That system includes 50 retail stores, three warehouse and distribution centers, recycling and secondary market operations, and a rapidly growing e-commerce unit. Largely because of the growth of that system in recent years, we have 1,000 more employees in our organization than we did five years ago.
More significantly, 68% of our employees have limited work options because of disability, criminal history, or lack of a high school diploma. And it’s particularly important to note that for 50% of our employees we are the primary source of income in their households. That places an enormous responsibility on those of us in senior positions to run the organization well enough that we will be able to continue providing a livelihood for all of those people who are counting on us. And we take that responsibility very seriously.
Our retail system is also the financial backbone of the entire organization, and in that system our business and mission objectives are tightly woven together. In addition, cash from retail operations helps support other Goodwill services that do not generate enough revenue to sustain themselves.
While Goodwill adds value in the community in several ways, nothing we do is more important than providing jobs for people with limited options. Certainly, the importance of that role is magnified during periods of relatively high unemployment. We also have a responsibility to provide as many opportunities as possible for those individuals to improve their education and/or enhance their skills so they might eventually qualify for higher paying jobs with us or with another employer.
Of course, our ability to employ people over long periods of time is dependent on our ability to operate businesses well over a long period of time. If those businesses are growing, we can often employ more people. Fortunately, we’ve been able to do that for quite a few decades.
It’s particularly noteworthy that the part of our organization that employs the largest number of people has been with us from the start. It’s survived wars, the Great Depression, several recessions, and many other changes in the economy, demographics, technology, competition, laws and regulations, as well as occasional natural disasters. But the future of that business is not guaranteed. We must take nothing for granted.