Posted on April 20, 2022
While Charlie Nickel has only been at his new job at Outback Steakhouse in Hunt Valley, MD, for two months now, he’s already made a big impression on the management, his coworkers, and customers. But that’s typical of Charlie, a hard and loyal worker whose exemplary work ethic has kept him in stable employment for all his adult life.
For Charlie, 55, a longtime Penn-Mar resident who lives independently and receives minimal personal supports, there’s no such thing as easy work, or what he calls “fast money,” doing little work for a regular paycheck.
“I never lived that way in my life,” he said. “Every job I’ve had I worked hard and put in my time to earn my money. I bring a good attitude to work, and the most important thing is being there for the company and for the customers.”
That attitude has not only kept him employed, but in great standing with all his employers over the 34 years since he entered the workforce. According to the most recent data by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person changes jobs 12 times in their lifetime. Charlie’s new position at Outback Steakhouse marks his sixth job.
“Wherever he is, or whatever he does, Charlie takes pride in his work,” said Heather Laser, Penn-Mar Employment Support Coordinator. Heather has worked with Charlie for the past five years as a liaison between him and his employers, facilitating any on-the-job needs.
A change is as good as a rest
Three years ago, we profiled Charlie in a story about his full-time job at Apple Car Wash Express in York, PA. At the time, he’d been with the company for seven years working in all manner of weather conditions as a detailer on the dealership lots of the Apple Autopark where he cleaned and spruced up cars for sale.
By May of last year, two months shy of a full nine years with Apple, the physical demands of the job caught up with Charlie who began suffering severe hip pain. After being on several medical leaves, he decided, consulting with Heather first, that it would be best for him and Apple to move on from the job, a decision that wasn’t easy given how much he liked it and the people he worked for.
“I did what I had to do to take care of myself,” said Charlie. Two weeks after he left Apple the pain got worse; doctors had been unable to diagnose the cause. Gradually though, the pain began to subside and today he experiences only mild discomfort.
Challenging job market
As frustrating as the hip pain was for Charlie, almost equally frustrating were the seven or so months it took to find another job once he was comfortably ready. The challenge was finding the right position in a pandemic job market in turmoil.
“We had been applying to a number of places, but they had either filled the position, never called back, or it just wasn’t the right fit,” said Heather. “Charlie told me that he wasn’t going to lose hope. He hung in there and stayed pretty positive. He knew he’d find something eventually.”
Penn-Mar Job Developer Albert Whitestone joined the Customized Employment team at the end of August and began reaching out to employers immediately. He found that while businesses were scrambling to find employees, many jobs were being outsourced, businesses were limiting their hours of operation, or had closed all together, and HR departments, themselves short staffed, were dealing with a backlog of applications. Add to that the prevailing employer attitudes to hiring people with disabilities.
As a self-professed people connector, Albert said that he has the best success when he drops in at an establishment to speak directly with a hiring manager. Such was the case with Outback. That first meeting with the restaurant’s Managing Partner Megan Clarke, led to returning with Charlie for a working interview.
“Megan was able to see what Charlie could do and hired him on the spot,” said Albert. On February 8th, much to his delight, Charlie began his new job at Outback. His primary responsibilities include rolling silverware and keeping the dining room clean. Regarding the latter, diners have taken note, extending their compliments and tips to Charlie for the great job he’s been doing.
“Charlie is awesome. He’s so reliable and is here before his shift starts,” said Megan, a former early childhood and special education teacher. “He does everything he needs to do to get the job done and I hope he stays with us for a very long time.”
For Charlie the atmosphere at Outback is just right, and though he’s only been there a short time, he said he feels appreciated and noticed and that it feels good. “They know that I’m willing to do my job and do it well.”
“I see a lot of positive energy there,” he said. “They help me out and I help them out, and it’s a team effort. We all need to work as a team.”