The University Record, June 17, 2002

U-M HRAA employee is Michigan Works success story

By Linda Rider
Human Resources and Affirmative Action

Merck (Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)
Sondra Merck is grateful, yet still surprised, by all the attention she’s been receiving. In February, Ann Arbor News columnist Mary Morgan wrote a piece on Merck. A month later, Fox 2 Detroit TV sent a crew to interview her at Wolverine Tower for a piece by Cam Carmen that aired March 27.

All of this attention is due to Merck’s success as an employee at the Employment Services Office and her award from Michigan Works, a statewide program that prepares people to return to the workforce.

Today Merck is a full-time office assistant who opens the large volume of mail received at the Employment Services Office, assembles new employee orientation materials and is being trained to cover the front desk. Prior to her permanent position, she worked as a temporary employee filing applicant resumes. And before her temporary position at U-M, she was unemployed and receiving public assistance.

When Merck moved from Detroit to Ypsilanti nearly two years ago with her two daughters, she couldn’t afford a phone, had no furniture, no car and was told she had two weeks to enter the Michigan Works Michigan First program before her public assistance would end one month later. Although it was tough, Merck found ways to show up at the program office 40 hours each week for four weeks, make arrangements for the care of her daughters, and find ways to get everyone in her family where they needed to go, usually by bus.

As a result of her success in completing the program, getting connected to Sandra Henkel, employment representative in the Temporary Staffing Services Office, and becoming a valued member of the Employment Services team, Merck received the Alumni of the Year Award from Michigan Works at a ceremony in Lansing. Better yet, she became a full-time employee of Employment Services on April 2.

“Sondra has made great strides since joining our staff,” says Cynthia Kabza, director of employment and executive services. “ She is a success story and we are all happy for her and her two little girls.”

Henkel found Merck during a Michigan Works job fair. The match was ideal for both. Henkel was impressed by Merck’s qualities, hired her and placed Merck in the Employment Services Office. “Sondra was willing to do a variety of things,” says Henkel. “We needed an office assistant, but the person did not need extensive computer experience. Sondra had worked in an office environment in the past, but was not familiar with computers. It was a perfect match and she’s definitely grown with the position.”

Henkel says she recruits at Michigan Works on a monthly basis because of the excellent candidates. She has hired about 75 temporary employees through the agency. “Other state programs under the umbrella of Michigan Works provide potential employees who have been downsized, for example,” says Henkel. “Being connected to these programs gives us an opportunity to let them know that the U-M is a prospective employer. It gives us a wide range of employees—those with few skills to those who are highly skilled.”

Merck’s co-workers have been very supportive in helping her adapt to the work setting. In addition to computer training and other office skills, many have contributed to the needs of Merck and her children in the form of donations, transportation and other necessities. Since joining the Employment Services staff, Merck also has learned how to drive and acquired her first driver’s license.

“I knew how to type, but couldn’t even fake my way on a computer,” says Merck. “They have taken me under their wings and are still grooming me for when it is time to nudge me to advance in my professional and personal life. From the first day, you couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with and that’s not an exaggeration. It’s like a family and we work as a team. You don’t find that kind of work environment everywhere. It makes you want to do your best.”