Mission in Action: Apprenticeships and Professional Development

by Katie Brunk

Labyrinth Made Goods™ provides professional development, apprenticeships, and permanent employment to women in our community who have experienced incarceration. We do that through a structured, professional development program called YW Strive and through our 9-month apprenticeships that provide an opportunity to hone important skills and gain employment experience needed to succeed in jobs and careers now and in the future.

Labyrinth Handmade Goods Apprentices leaning against porch railing

Core to our mission, Labyrinth Made Goods™ offers apprenticeship opportunities to YWCA Labyrinth Outreach clients who are participants or graduates of YW Strive. These apprenticeships provide women who have experienced incarceration with an opportunity to gain employment experience, earn a wage, and practice new skills.

YW Strive

Our professional development program, YW Strive, was launched in July 2020 as part of Labyrinth Made Goods and YWCA McLean County. This hands-on program offers a structured learning environment for those who face challenges securing gainful employment, retaining that employment, or advancing in a career. We believe every individual should have access to professional development that enables them to learn skills required to pursue a career and financially support themselves and their families.

While open to the broader community, YW Strive was designed by Labyrinth Made Goods staff, community partners, and YWCA Labyrinth Outreach clients to meet the needs of women who have experienced incarceration. Our program participants learn digital skills for the workplace, essential skills (aka soft skills), entrepreneurial skills, and many more topics and skills most desired by local employers. We also know that just having the knowledge or skills required for a job may not be enough for everyone to overcome the employment challenges they face, so YW Strive participants also receive one-on-one case management and job coaching from our staff to help remove the other barriers they identify. They can also meet and network with local employers through YW Strive.

Two Labyrinth Handmade Goods apprentices working on project together at a computer desk.

Labyrinth Made Goods Apprenticeship Program

Labyrinth Made Goods’ 9-month apprenticeship program offers an additional opportunity for women to build and practice important skills that employers are looking for. Clients of YWCA Labyrinth Outreach who are currently enrolled in YW Strive or have graduated from the YW Strive program are eligible to apply for an apprenticeship with Labyrinth Made Goods. Our apprentices either work directly with us to support Labyrinth Made Goods’ business and program growth or they work with a community partner to help other local businesses succeed. We launched Labyrinth Made Goods in September 2020 with two internal apprentices and one external apprentice.

Internal Apprenticeships

Two of our apprentices, Hannah and Shay, are working internally with the Labyrinth Made Goods staff to improve our website, create and implement marketing campaigns, pursue retail partnerships, and more. They are tasked with helping Labyrinth Made Goods tell our story, grow our customer base, and build a profitable business so that we can create more opportunities to empower women. They also work with the Director of Labyrinth Made Goods to identify projects that are aligned with their individual career interests.

While some social enterprises focus their transitional employment programs on product manufacturing and distribution, we decided to take a different approach to ensure that we were using our financial resources and apprentice creativity to help our business grow and succeed. Rather than physically making candles, our apprentices are working alongside our staff to learn about and contribute to our business administration, program development, and sales and marketing. This approach enables apprentices to gain experience in projects that use highly-transferable skills so they’ll be more competitive candidates for employment. They will also have business experience that they can draw on if they choose to start their own business.

The Serenity Candle™, our signature candle, was designed by the women of YWCA Labyrinth Outreach to capture what serenity means to us as we overcome obstacles and rebuild our lives. Each of these hand-filled candles conveys a serene moment by the lakeside.

When you light a Serenity Candle, you light a beacon for new lives lived with dignity and self-worth. Your purchase lets the Labyrinth sisterhood know that people care about us and our well-being.

Hannah, a Labyrinth Handmade Goods apprentice, holding a candle

"I had never thought I could start my own business, but from this opportunity, I’m able to identify the business skills I have. Starting my own business could be a way to help support others who have been incarcerated and provide them with employment opportunities."


External Apprenticeships

As part of YWCA McLean County, Labyrinth Made Goods has deep roots in our community and, through our community connections, we’ve been able to pilot an alternative, external apprenticeship experience with a local business partner as well. We have one apprentice, Ann, working with David Dow at Schooley Mitchell to support business growth through customer outreach and relationship building. Throughout this apprenticeship, she’ll gain experience with various digital platforms and remote communication tools, sales and relationship building, and developing and implementing business strategies.

By partnering with other local businesses or organizations who share our values and are willing to offer apprentices a supportive work environment, meaningful work, and fair wages, we are able to offer more apprenticeship opportunities. This, in turn, helps more women gain the skills and experience needed to successfully rebuild their lives, explore career options, and strengthen our community.

Shay, a Labyrinth Handmade Goods apprentice, holding a candle

"I'm excited about this job opportunity because it gives me a chance to learn new skills, like sales and marketing."


Hiring apprentices to help with business and program administration projects has also enabled Labyrinth Made Goods to partner with a local, farmer-owned candle company to manufacture our candles. This partnership ensures that, from day one, our customers receive consistent, high-quality products and that apprentices can engage in the crucial work we need to grow our business and programs. (Look for more information about this partnership in an up-coming blog post.)

Looking Forward

While we are confident that our current approach to the apprenticeship program is best for our apprentices and business right now, we know that not all individuals are interested in or suited for the business administrative roles that we currently offer. As we grow and are able to offer more apprenticeship positions, we will prioritize adding apprenticeship opportunities that offer more logistics and distribution work. We also hope to partner with more local employers to offer apprenticeship experiences across a variety of industries to provide apprentices with opportunities to explore jobs most aligned with their career goals.

As Labyrinth Made Goods matures and grows, we are committed to hiring graduates of the YW Strive program and the Labyrinth Made Goods apprenticeship program to work with us permanently. Our graduates not only have the leadership, workplace, and business skills needed to ensure Labyrinth Made Goods can succeed; they are also dedicated to ensuring programs like ours continue to create empowering opportunities for other women in our community.