My colleague Anthea and I have just been given a warm welcome by production leader Manfred Weiß. The next thing we know, we are enthusiastically holding one of the workshop’s finished products. It is a wonderful shoulder bag made using excess GORE-TEX fabric. The bag has a zipper closure as well as distinctive fishing knots on the shoulder straps. There are two small pockets on the front of the bag with lots of room for bits and pieces.
This bag is no ordinary mass-produced bag. It is lovingly hand sewn by people who throw themselves heart and soul into their projects. We have ordered 700 of these bags to underline our commitment to our cooperation with the Freeride World Tour.
Sewing machinist Julia (name changed to protect identity) has played an instrumental role in the production of the bags. My colleague Anthea is the Gore employee overseeing the project. As the two of us enter the sewing workshop in Pfaffenhofen, Bavaria, Julia gives us a wave from behind her sewing machine. Julia has a hearing impairment. She and her colleagues are busy finishing off the last 50 bags. There is a sparkle and a look of pride in her eyes. And rightly so. Julia is one of the workshop’s best sewing machinists, says Anna Maria Wörle. For the last four years, Anna Maria has been a group leader in the sewing room for people with disability. She is supported in this role by care assistant Lucie Maller. The two women find working with people with disabilities very fulfilling. “The best thing about our work is that our employees give us so much back. Our aim is to encourage them and prepare them for the primary labour market, as best we can.”
At the Regens Wagner sheltered workshop everyone comes together to share a part of life’s journey.
Julia trained as a sewing machinist at Regens Wagner. Now, she can use her expertise and skill to help us with the production of our “Freeride World Tour x GORE-TEX bags”. The workshop at the Pfaffenhofen site employs some 45 people and follows what is known as the “Regens Wagner” concept. In all, there are about 170 employees at the two locations under Manfred’s responsibility.
The original idea from 1847 is still the same
Johann Evangelist Wagner and master craftswoman Theresia Haselmayr wanted to help people with disabilities. They founded their first sheltered workshop in 1847 in Dillingen, Bavaria. This was the start of the Regens Wagner workshops. Today, Manfred and his team continue the legacy of the founders at two production sites in Bavaria.
“We offer employment or a vocational activity to people who cannot, or cannot yet, be placed in, or return to, a job in the primary labour market, due to the kind or severity of their impairment. Our facilities provide vocational rehabilitation and aim to integrate individuals with disabilities (back) into the workforce,” Manfred explains. He has been in charge of the workshops for the past six years and active in this field of work for twenty years.
Personal development takes pride of place
During an initial three-month test phase, the individual strengths and weaknesses of the employees are assessed, also to determine which area of work suits them best. “Typically, our employees will work in three different areas during their first year to find out what their preferences are. In the second year, they work in their chosen area. This may be in the sewing room, in packaging or assembly, or in an agricultural role,” Manfred says. We dedicate a lot of time to the individual.
If they wish to, employees can unwind in a rest and relaxation room, or attend courses such as yoga or taekwondo in our multi-purpose room. There’s also plenty of space in our staff canteen for them to enjoy breaks and lunch with their colleagues.
The main focus of the workshop is sewing cherry stone cushions and pillows for retailers. Around 300,000 of them are hand sewn every year. Understandably, our GORE-TEX bags are a welcome change, as well as a new challenge for the employees.
Made with love from start to finish in a real show of teamwork
What are the main production steps for our bags? That’s something group leader Anna Maria can answer best. She had decided in advance how much rope and how many zips needed to be ordered. My colleague Anthea had thought about the design of the bag and produced a sketch.
Anna Maria used this sketch to create a prototype. This meant that she now knew the main production steps for our bag and could think about which employee would be best suited to which step. The rolls of GORE-TEX fabric that were delivered by us were laid out and the individual layers cut to size using a pattern.
“The fishing knots were quite a challenge and required a certain amount of trial and error before the employee got the hang of it. The employee who was given this job became quite the expert, after having cut lengths of rope and tied the knots for all 700 bags. She certainly knew what she was doing! The same person is also responsible for the final inspection of the bags,” Anna Maria continues.
Each employee is given a task that suits their strengths and yet is still a new challenge, creating an environment that promotes individual growth. That’s what I call real teamwork.
There are many different types of disability. It may be anything from a physical impairment or a learning disability to autism or a hearing impairment. Each person needs individual attention, and the staff members must have the right training. They all need to have completed an additional course in special educational needs. An in-depth training programme qualifying them as an employment and vocational development specialist entitles them to take on a group leader role.
Being there for people with disabilities
“We provide structure in the lives of our employees, and they give us so much in return,” care assistant Lucie remarks. Anna Maria and Manfred nod in agreement, as they go on to explain that the overall goal is to give their employees the chance to develop, become more independent and become familiar with new procedures and processes. They are not put under the kind of pressure found in the primary labour market. It’s all about building trust among the employees and treating people with disabilities just like anyone else.
Aiming to integrate all the employees into the primary labour market is an ambitious goal. Nevertheless, having this goal inspires the staff members to work on the wishes, reliability, ability to respond to criticism, and independence of people with disabilities, in the hope that there will be more and more companies out there with a social conscience that are open to employing individuals with disabilities, just as they would any other employee.
We are proud of each and every one of our bags and would like to take this opportunity to thank the entire team at the Regens Wagner Hohenwart workshop in Pfaffenhofen.