WORKER STORIES | WHAT WE HEARD
SKILLS & GROWTH:
There is no luxury of specialization at many microenterprises. The overall sentiment was that the environment of a small business demands that you wear many hats. This means learning new skills on the job and putting skills you already have to use in new industries. What about opportunities for growth?
“You can always tell the way they look at you at job interviews…. They look at my age and experience, and they figure they can take two young guys instead.”
At 53, Lucas’s employment had been based on his physical size and strength. He has held many jobs across the country, including work as a rodeo hand and a manual laborer at packing houses; work in carpentry; landscaping; and most recently work as a truck driver. Despite earning a good living as a driver, he had to give up cross-country trips when his eyesight started failing a few years ago. After facing what he perceived as age discrimination while searching for work in Denver’s packinghouses, he connected to a local silkscreen shop that prints artwork onto t-shirts. This job has nurtured a hidden artistic talent and introduced Lucas to a field where he now expertly manages the tools, paints, and machinery that produce the artwork. Armed with these new skills and interest, Lucas wants to break out on his own so that he can earn more and be his own boss in what he hopes is his last, stable career.
67% of workers saw opportunities to grow at the business.
Amelia, age 56, had held a series of difficult, low-paying jobs – predominantly low-wage factory and restaurant jobs – for much of her 30-year work history. Just prior to her current job in a small franchise tax-preparation firm, she had been through a particularly rough patch with her family and, lacking formal employment, had been doing informal, home-based work, either babysitting or making Nicaraguan tamales. When she saw the advertisement for three months of free tax-preparation training, it was a godsend. At the time of the interview, Amelia had been working at the business for five years, progressing from preparing the taxes, to managing and coaching other tax preparation employees and managing sales and marketing for the entire office. Amelia has an obvious thirst for continuous improvement and likes the company’s access to continuing educational training webinars. The tax industry is demanding and challenging, with real highs and lows that come with the tax season. Nevertheless, given the skills she has acquired over the years, this year Amelia believes that she can more easily find supplemental part-time work after the tax season.
“There isn’t such a clear path to move up the ladder, but in a small business everyone plays so many different roles. There is more variation, and it’s less static. ...Things come along and...if you keep your eyes open, you can create yourself a new job.”
Aaron is an urban farmer who tends to rooftop farms in Brooklyn and Queens. He spoke of his professional growth path from farming to taking on a farmer education program, managing the business’ events space, and most recently speaking in public on behalf of the business (which his boss has encouraged). As the business is still young, and the team is small and tight-knit, Aaron has had the chance to be involved with new services. Though he is still unclear as to whether he wants to remain in farming due to the long hours and minimal pay, these other areas of work have allowed him to cultivate relationships with a large network of hunger and food advocacy nonprofits, which he believes will open doors to other opportunities should he choose to leave farming.
“The place where I worked before was just a showroom; here they have a showroom, an e-commerce site, and a store. (Working at the store) now I have a full understanding of what happens after the clothes get to the store.”
Josh works in the fashion industry. He is in charge of wholesaling seven brands for a small wholesale company with a retail clothing shop. His responsibilities include attending trade shows and developing the lines by working with designers, showing merchandise to stores, getting feedback, and managing shipping and payments. Josh had managed brands in his previous job and is now acquiring retail skills that have rounded out his experience in the industry, which he thinks makes him more marketable. This well-rounded perspective has allowed him to be more effective at giving feedback to designers about what is in demand and what sells, and strengthens his ability to sell wholesale to stores (as he can speak to what sells in the retail store). Beyond his new expertise, Josh believes this job is helping him create a network and establish more substantive industry connections.
“67% of microbusiness workers
opportunities to grow at the business.”