Ark-Les Switch Co. needed to salvage components from rejected electrical switches but couldn't afford to use its own employees because of the high labor cost.

So a year ago, Ark-Les turned for help so Saco Valley Industries, in Saco, Maine, a workshop for handicapped adults that specializes in subcontract services. Since then, the Portland, Maine, switch manufacturer has been getting the parts salvaged outside the plant by a team of Saco Valley's 50 workers under the direction of skilled supervisors.

Sheltered workshops like Saco's are located throughout the country. They can often assist businesses with such production needs as mailing, collating, electronic assembly, furniture refinishing, or light machine work. Using their services often costs a business less, in both time and money, than using its own employees.

"Quality has been excellent," reports Tom Cousens, plant manager for Ark-Les Switch. "We've been able to use 100% of the salvaged parts."

Companies interested in using sheltered workshops -- either to save operating capital or to increase the work force temporarily -- should contact their local human service organizations.