Second Chance Employer Profile
The Yonkers, NY- based Greyston Bakery was founded in 1982 by an American Zen Buddhist named Bernie Glassman. From the beginning he focused on offering jobs to people with barriers to employment.
Ben & Jerry’s, one of the company’s earliest customers, began buying Greyston brownies for its chocolate fudge brownie ice cream. Last year, Greyston Bakery produced nearly 12 million pounds of brownies, with Ben & Jerry’s still buying most of them. The company also distributes its brownies through Whole Foods and other outlets. It has 120 employees.
Greyston was New York’s first B Corp. business and operates as a 501(c)3 nonprofit social justice enterprise.
Second chance hiring practices
Greyston Bakery goes beyond ban the box and may have the most revolutionary hiring practices of any company in the U.S. It uses a unique concept known as Open Hiring™, with two-thirds of its employees hired this way.
For applicants, there is no need for a resume, there are no interviews and no background checks. They just add their name to a list, and when It reaches the top of the list they are hired. In the past. people had to physically come into the bakery to get on the list. But now they can just use a QR code and scan their name. Everyone who is hired in this way begins as a bakery apprentice.
“Applicants for the bakery apprenticeship position just need to have a willingness to work and want to go to the next level,” says Joe Kenner, the company’s president & CEO.
“The apprenticeship lasts six to nine months. They are assigned a mentor. They’ll have a baker to walk alongside them on their journey.” After they complete the apprenticeship program, participants become line workers, and many of them have been promoted to other areas in the bakery, including supervisory positions. The overall turnover is 30 percent.
A full-time resource and support specialist helps people with any challenges they may have. Although at Greyston every day, she’s actually employed and paid for by Westchester Jewish Community Services.
Greyston goes well beyond its efforts to employ brownie bakers and focuses on creating opportunities in other industries as well. Three years ago, it created the Greyston Employment Opportunity Center (GEOC). The center helps those facing barriers to employment in a variety of ways.
The first is to offer job training in high demand industries, including IT, construction, health care, hospitality and security. The training includes certificates in several areas, like flagging for construction, food safety and the National Retail Foundation’s RISE Up credential.
“We’re training people to get into entry level positions but within industries where entry level positions can turn into mid-level jobs,” says Kenner.
The GEOC also helps job seekers gain transitional employment. For those not yet work ready, it has a program called the Rangers that cleans up downtown Yonkers and the parks. Most participants are in reentry, and after 60 to 90 days as a Ranger are moved into a full time job.
Still other assistance that the center offers is support services. These include case management, help from a court specialist and support for whatever people may need.
Greyston is also working with other companies to replicate its open hiring practices.
“Our biggest client is the Body Shop in the U.S. Canada, Australia and the UK – its distribution centers and retail operations,” says Kenner. “They started in 2019 and have offered 3,000 jobs through open hiring. And we just signed on with Ikea in North America (in October 2022). We’re modeling an open hiring program for them. It will be entry level folks at their distribution center and who knows where else.”
Greyston has created what it calls the 2030 Vision. “We want 40,000 jobs through open hiring by 2030,” Kenner adds. “We want to show how business can be a force for good through inclusive employment. We want to be the recognized leader.
“If people want to get onboard with us, we would be happy to work with a Walmart or an Amazon. We’ve got over 30 smaller partners, but we need the big companies to get there (to the 40,000 jobs mark).
Although these are big ambitions, creating open hiring is not an easy endeavor. “When people hear about open hiring they’re intrigued and want to know how they can do it. I tell them to start small. Start with one job. Or a percentage of your workforce. Or one location. It’s a revolutionary approach, so let’s start small and figure out the best way for your particular organization to do it,” Kenner recommends.
And do it they should.
“Everybody’s struggling to find good talent. And everybody’s struggling to find good people,” he says. “Unfortunately they’re taking the traditional way of finding people and hiring people. A lot of the folks we hire at the bakery won’t come up on anyone’s radar. It says nothing about their ability. But they’re in nontraditional places. They don’t have the social capital that others have.
Even so, that person is going to be more loyal to you than anyone on the planet, because you’re giving them a chance where nobody else would.”