Podcast: Operations Manager David Kelley sharing the benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities.

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Speaker 1: (singing)

Dave Kelly: My success with voc rehab is because every time I took a course, I essentially got another promotion. The more I knew about food safety, the more my qualifications for the next position

Speaker 3: Four, three, two, one.

Announcer: VR Workforce Studio, podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work. As well as the professionals who have helped them.

Speaker 5: A job and a career. You got to look at how life changing this is.

Announcer: And the businesses who have filled their talent pipelines with workers that happen to have disabilities.

Speaker 6: To help expand registered apprenticeship.

Announcer: These are their stories.

Speaker 7: Because there's such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.

Announcer: Now here's the host of the VR Workforce Studio, Rick Sizemore.

Rick Sizemore: Welcome to episode 82 of the VR Workforce Studio with today's special feature from Nebraska's vocational rehabilitation through their Career Pathways Advancement Project. This is the second episode in a special two part series, focusing on people with disabilities and the workforce in Nebraska. On today's show, we talk with Janet Drudik, the project manager for the Career Pathways Advancement Project about the success of the up-skill and backfill model. It's helping so many people with disabilities find their way into meaningful careers in Nebraska.

As we record this episode, the nation is facing a global pandemic with the coronavirus and what we're finding through all of our recent interviews, our VR success stories, and the networks we operate within, is that people with disabilities are working. They're keeping our workforce staffed and in many instances, filling the essential jobs that are needed to keep our country strong during this crisis. That is certainly the case with our guest in today's Big Inspiration Showcase, Dave Kelly, who's the operations manager at Todd's BBI in Madison, Nebraska. The food manufacturing and co-pack operation is up and running, but under some very tight controls given the circumstances we're facing nationally with COVID-19. And were indeed fortunate to actually pull Dave Kelly off the manufacturing floor for a few minutes to talk with us about his job and the Career Pathways Advancement Project. Welcome to the podcast, Dave.

Dave Kelly: Well, thanks for having me.

Rick Sizemore: Yeah, let's get started with a quick overview of Todd's. They have certainly been around a while. It seems like a great company. Tell us a little bit about Todd's operation today and your job there.

Dave Kelly: Well, it started in Des Moines, Iowa as a seasoning factory. They would blend and make different types of seasonings. And then they purchased a bone company called Bone Brokers International, hence our name Todd's BBI. After they bought Bone Brokers International, I think about 10 years ago, five years ago, they bought a company called Summit Foods here in Madison, Nebraska, and it was a sauce manufacturer. And that's when I joined. And essentially what we do here in Madison is we make batches of sauces for barbecue, the bloody mary dressings to soups to hot sauces, salsas, and we pasteurize it and bottle it.

Rick Sizemore: It's a fascinating operation. You can go online and just see there's a wealth of activity going on at the plant. How did you get started at Todd's? And it seems like maybe you've worked your way up the ladder there.

Dave Kelly: I did. The previous plant manager was a friend of mine and I was leaving a job at Affiliated Foods due to some discrepancies with the union. He brought me on as a maintenance warehouse guy five years ago. From there, I went from working maintenance and warehouse to quality control technician because they had someone quit. And essentially what that job did is I would monitor the temperature, the pH, the level and the filler for all the bottles going in and make sure that we have shelf-stable quality product. And that gave me an interest in food safety. And then all of a sudden between voc rehab and my company, they started sending me off to all kinds of training courses from preventive controls to nutritional labeling to food microbiology.

And about after a year being quality control technician, an opportunity for production manager and came about. So I became production manager and I was there for about three months and their quality control manager job opened up, and obviously because of the training they sent me to and in my past knowledge of food safety, I became a quality control manager. And then when the plant manager left three years ago, again, I was the obvious choice. And even as plant manager for the last three years, I have been ongoing with my training, three or four different courses a year. Our company is ever expanding, and so just recently they've promoted me to operations manager. So obviously the whole operation of the building and as well as some things are going on with Des Moines.

Rick Sizemore: Well, congratulations on one has been a meteoric climb through the company and finding new skills and talents and career pathways. Now we have around 40,000 people who listen to the show and they first met you a few years ago through a woman named Janet Drudik. She talked about the VR experience going on there at your company at a conference, and she described great success with Todd's and in fact, you. You've been so very successful. You talked about having some humble beginnings after being incarcerated. How did you connect with voc rehab and the Career Pathways Advancement Project?

Dave Kelly: So pretty much what happened is I'm a recovering drug addict. I've been clean nine years as of December 10, 2019, but I went to rehab in Norfolk, Nebraska, Sunrise Place. When I left rehab, the rehab center and connected me with voc rehab to help me find a job. After rehab, I had to go to a stint in prison for a year and a half or two and a half years for some previous altercations. So I had met voc rehab before that and then when I got out, I knew about it. So I approached them again as well. And they actually helped me get my job at Affiliated Foods first. Helped me with, just fresh out of prison. Didn't have much.

They got me clothes for the interview, work boots, and that was seven years ago. And then I was there for two, two and a half, three years and came here and I was approached by Zach Arter because of my position at the company. And it just went from there. And then even after my success with voc rehab here, because every time I took a course from voc rehab, I essentially got another promotion. The more I knew about food safety, the more than my company's seen my qualifications for the next position up but in retrospect, my successor for the quality control management job as well, went through the voc rehab program, took a couple of courses, and she was able to be promoted almost simultaneously as I was.

Rick Sizemore: That's such a fascinating story. People sometimes get off track and it seems like you had this experience in your life. And then you've moved ahead and been extremely successful with the help of, voc rehab just kind of from a boots on the ground standpoint, how did the program, the Career Pathways Advancement Project, how's it really helped Todd's and you?

Dave Kelly: Well, as we keep growing, my knowledge of food safety and now it’s to the point that we can actually help the company grow. Same with my quality control manager. When we took Summit Foods over, we incorporated their programs. Well, their programs were so outdated and not up to par anymore of the new laws and regulations that the FDA governed that we were pretty much behind in the industry. So with voc rehab, we are now running par with the rest of the industry. Zach was a Godsend.

Rick Sizemore: Yeah.

Dave Kelly: Especially in that time of life.

Rick Sizemore: And so many plant managers or HR folks today, they might shy away from someone who had had a similar background to yours, but you're living proof people turn things around and become exceptional employees. What would you say to another plant manager that maybe had not hired someone with a disability or someone who'd had incarceration in their background? What would you say to them if they were thinking about giving it a try?

Dave Kelly: Well, I'd tell them to do it. Some of the best employees are ex-felons and ex-drug addicts. Being where I came from, I kind of have a second chance program I do here. I don't judge people on their history. It's about their drive and if they're willing to put in the work. And most people that hit rock bottom like I have, you can tell when enough is enough. Some of my hardest workers are felons. They got something to prove. The new plant manager, he's a felon just like I am.

Rick Sizemore: What we hear so often is the appreciated worker is a dedicated worker.

Dave Kelly: Oh, definitely.

Rick Sizemore: So what do you think the future holds for Todd's in terms of working with voc rehab and programs like Career Pathways Advancement Project?

Dave Kelly: Well, right now I'm in some talk with Zach with trying to get a couple of my other employees that have disabilities as well into the programs. That way, the more people that have food safety knowledge, especially in our industry, the better practices for general manufacturing practices they can do on a daily basis. One of our major concerns here is making sure that we put safe, quality food out in the market. So that's kind of our major focus during production.

Rick Sizemore: What else would you like to say about voc rehab and how it's impacted your life and career?

Dave Kelly: Voc rehab gave me an opportunity when I had nothing. They gave me the assistance to become something. When I got out of prison, I pretty much had the clothes that they gave me when you get released, and so voc rehab helped me get nice dress clothes to go the interview, which got me the job. And once I got the job, they helped me get the materials I needed for the job, the steel toe boots, the pliers to do the job at Affiliated Foods, and since then the Career Pathways program has helped me excel tremendously fast through a company that's growing. When I started here, we were making about 300,000 a year. Now we're in the millions. So that's the growth the company's made because of programs like voc rehab. Without the knowledge that I was able to obtain and my other employees were able to obtain through these training programs, we wouldn't be where we're at as a company either.

Rick Sizemore: Security and safety in food manufacturing has become so much more of a concern for large commercial manufacturers and, Todd's BBI fills that demand and guarantee safety as we navigate the challenges of the coronavirus. Dave is the operations manager at the plant. Thanks for being on our podcast, Dave.

Dave Kelly: All right. Thank you, Rick.

Rick Sizemore: You can always find another exciting episode, as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation here at the VR workforce studio. Until next time, I'm Rick Sizemore.

Announcer: The VR Workforce Studio podcast is owned and operated by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation. The Foundation publishes and distributes the VR Workforce Studio and manages all sponsor arrangements. Audio content for the podcast is provided to the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services in exchange for promotional considerations.

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We help people with disabilities, prepare for, obtain, and maintain employment while helping businesses recruit, train, and retain employees with disabilities.

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