The labor shortage and skills gap are top concerns of business. In this space, we have previously featured the local apprenticeship program, known as CAP (Career Accelerator Program), as being one solution. Local apprenticeship programs, like CAP, are growing and gaining in popularity around the state as students and companies alike begin to reap the benefits of such collaborations.
Apprenticeships however, as effective as they are, take time and money to do and require a few “investment years” before an apprentice has the education, credentials, and training to be the solution that approach provides.
Another solution gaining momentum among employers is hiring people with criminal records.
An international movement called Ban the Box seeks to remove the check box on job application forms concerning criminal background and delay access to criminal records until the applicant has at least first had a chance to share their qualifications. According to Wikipedia, 25 states, the District of Columbia, and 150 cities in the U.S. have Ban the Box in place for government job applications.
Locally, several programs and agencies are working to bring ex-offenders into the economic mainstream. Sustainable Alamance began 10 years ago to support those needing a second chance. This agency teaches and trains individuals not just how to get a job, but how to keep a job. In addition, Sustainable Alamance “vets” potential candidates for employment and partners with local businesses to include these qualified Sustainable Alamance takes the candidate through a vetting process including pre-employment screening, teaching, training and supervised work experience to better prepare them for successful employment.
Goodwill Industries offers a program called Jobs on the Outside. Started in 2009, this program offers a 16-hour workshop covering topics such as work attitudes and job readiness as well as individualized case management assistance to develop a work plan and assist with any barriers to sustained employment.
A third local agency is Benevolence Farms. This agency was started in 2008 to help address the high recidivism rate among female ex-offenders. Benevolence Farms offers a residential program and working farm focused on teaching participants leadership, sustainable livelihoods, and self-advocacy.
Hiring individuals with criminal backgrounds is not without risk, but these local programs help to mitigate that risk for those individuals that show they want to make a change. Each situation is different and each of these programs works with companies and individuals to identify challenges and maximize potential matches.
Attendees at a recent Chamber Workforce Council meeting got to hear testimonials from these agencies as well as from a small business owner, a manufacturing facility owner, and an ex-offender about their experiences.
Despite frustrations and challenges associated with hiring people with criminal records, a tight labor market will continue to force businesses to consider ex-offenders and other “marginalized” populations.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article on this topic, one company who had increased efforts to hire people with criminal records, disabilities, and other non-traditional backgrounds said, “we are more assertive about going after programs that serve different populations because we have to be”.