Hector Soto must know a thing or two about customer service.
The Lodi High School student has been recognized for receiving a 100-percent mark from a secret shopper at his job, Smart & Final in Lodi. He was wearing his name tag in clear view, had excellent eye contact, a smile on his face and was pleasant, according to the review.
“Hector is a responsible, friendly and smart young man,” said Debbie Van Zant, who has worked with the student. “He does whatever is expected of him and has a great respect for his family. All around, he is an amazing young man.”
Soto is part of Lodi Unified School District’s WorkAbility program, which pairs local employers with special education students. It provides employment training for district high schoolers, teaching them work skills that local businesses expect in entry level employees, said David Wax, the district’s administrative director of special programs.
“Our goal is for a safe, positive paid work experience,” he added. “It is great when the business hires the student, but is not required. (It’s) just a bonus for all.”
Soto, 18, was recognized late last month at Smart & Final by both a state committee and the WorkAbility program. Not only was the award an honor to Soto, but to the store, as it has never received such high marks from a secret shopper.
Although his WorkAbility experience has ended, Smart & Final did hire Soto and he is currently working there. He will be attending San Joaquin Delta College in the fall.
The WorkAbility program is made possible through a state grant that assists students with special needs in transitioning to employment, according to district program coordinator Liz Zastrow. It provides both employment activities and paid work experience, and is celebrating its 30th year; Lodi Unified has been part of WorkAbility for 28.
“We have done well to keep this grant all of those years,” Zastrow said. “It means we continue to meet all of our goals.”
This year, the program placed 264 students in paid work experience throughout the area and provided employment activities for 1,051 students in the district, according to Zastrow.
The grant allows students to be paid minimum wage.
“We currently have students working for many years in their WorkAbility jobs,” Wax said. “They have moved up the career ladder with those businesses.
The district has worked with approximately 200 private sector businesses in both Lodi and Stockton throughout the years in many career pathways, including office, retail, fast food, construction, service industry, tourism and delivery.
“Under the leadership of Liz Zastrow, despite the worst economic crisis in 80 years, she and her effective team have a very high success rate of placing students in jobs in our community,” Wax said.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.