Humboldt County (Calif.) works with Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation on Humboldt Second Chance Program

Humboldt Second ChanceIn the far northern reaches of California, in a rural coastal area known for its redwood forests, local county officials are working with Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation to help formerly incarcerated individuals get jobs.

Taking advantage of a $400,000 grant from the state’s Workforce Development Board, Humboldt County has launched the Humboldt Second Chance Program (H2CP).

The Employment Training Division of the Humboldt County Department of Health & Human Services operates the program, and here’s how it works.

Set up as a series of seven-member cohorts, Humboldt Second Chance trains each cohort for specific types of jobs. Participants are referred from the probation office and after a screening and assessment go through a two-week training focusing on work readiness and expectations.

“We have a lot of younger folks now who may have never even worked. We’re trying to help them understand the rules of the game,” says Connie Lorenzo, employment training division program manager.

“Sometimes they don’t understand how to apply for a job or what’s expected in a job. We also get into time management and conflict management, as well as some of the things they might have issues with, like how to accept authority.”

Program includes two months of vocational training

The next step is vocational training, which lasts for two months. Participants work 25 hours per week, and their salaries are fully funded by the program. Most of the people are trained in construction, but some are doing office work, medical assisting and one has done horticultural training.

That’s as far as program participants have gotten so far, but one group is ready to move on.

“We have 13 people who will graduate out of the vocational training and work experience,” Lorenzo says “The next phase is to get them hired into a permanent position. We have staff willing to help with the job development and placing them, and we will pay 50 percent of their wage for the first four to six months.

Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation works with employers

Now that the Humboldt Second Chance Program has begun to train potential employees, what about the employers? And that’s where Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation comes in.

“The unique thing we did in Humboldt was because we only have 105,000 people and not a lot of industry, we had to recruit multiple employers to the program. We focused our grant not only on the ex-offenders but on employers as well,” says Lorenzo

In January her department held an employer event with a representative of Dave’s Killer Bread to educate employers on second chance employment.

It recruited 12 businesses that day and eight more since then. Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation will work directly with employers as a consultant offering one-on-one support to companies that want to hire people from the second chance program, according to Lorenzo.

“At the event we took the info we use in our summits and our work and showed them how it’s possible to make this (hiring previously incarcerated individuals) work,” says Genevieve Martin, executive director of the Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation. “It’s a great pipeline of candidates to look at.”

The foundation is now following up with those employers to see what kind of opportunities they have and to point them toward potential candidates.

This is the first time that DKB Foundation has done anything quite like this, but Martin hopes it won’t be the last.

“We’ve worked with other organizations before, but this is the first time we’ve partnered on a grant to deliver programs with strategic initiatives to the host organization,” Martin says. “Being able to partner with (an organization with) a more local approach is exciting, because that’s where we can make a difference.”

Plan to train 72 people

And Martin has her work cut out for her. Lorenzo says that the grant stated that they hope to train 72 people and get at least 45 of those employed full time. She says, however, they’re on target with between 40 and 50 people referred by probation thus far and is convinced they’ll succeed.

Although Lorenzo, in her position with Humboldt County, serves a lot of different types of clients, she’s especially impressed with those coming out of prison

“One thing I’ve found is that when ex-offenders are ready to transition their lives, they’re a very strong population to work with,” she says.


Home of Chicken & Waffles’ Derreck Johnson creates recipe for success

Derreck Johnson in his Oakland, Calif. Home of Chicken and Waffles restaurant, the latest of his businesses to hire ex-offenders.

There’s no denying that hiring ex-offenders can be challenging, but more people have to do it if we’re ever going to lower the recidivism rate. And maybe they would if they listened to Derreck Johnson, owner of San Francisco Bay Area’s Home of Chicken and Waffles restaurant chain. In fact, 25 percent of his workforce is ex-offenders, and he plans to continue hiring them as he adds more outlets.

It all started quite by accident in the early 1990s. Johnson had a car-detailing business and needed employees fast. A couple of men came in, and he hired them, only to find out later that they lived in a halfway house for ex-offenders. “They turned out to be wonderful employees, and the halfway house kept sending me guys,” he says. “Their commitment and desire to work was amazing, and the rapport I had with them was outstanding.”

The halfway house is no more, but Johnson continues to hire ex-offenders with the help of the City of Oakland’s Measure Y program. Measure Y, passed by the Oakland voters in 2004, provides $20 million per year through a parcel tax to fund such things as a violence-prevention program that includes young adult reentry services. And it is these young adults who Johnson is hiring.

“Hearing these guys’ stories made we want to help them transform their lives,” he says. “We all make mistakes. Some of us get caught with our mistakes. Some of us don’t.”

Although Johnson hired a fair number of ex-offenders in the several businesses he has owned –including the first Home of Chicken and Waffles, the restaurant he opened in the Jack London Square area of Oakland in 2004, and the second outlet, which began to serve southern soul food last year in suburban Walnut Creek – he still faces a few difficulties not normally found with other employees.

“The main challenge they face is developing basic work skills like calling in if you’re going to be late to work. It’s just basic common knowledge that most people in the workforce understand, but those who haven’t been in the workforce don’t,” he says.

Johnson has a training program for all his staff and doesn’t treat those on parole any differently. “We reach out with a level of concern, and say it’s OK. Just let us know what you don’t know,” he says.

Although he has compassion for their situation, “They also have to understand that as soon as they walk through the door their personal lives need to be left behind, and that can be a challenge” he says. “At the same time, you have someone who is very loyal and really appreciative about receiving a job.”

As for advice he would give to others who might be thinking about possibly hiring ex-offenders: “Make sure that you look at them and understand where they’re coming from and be empathetic toward them and don’t treat them any differently than any other employees. Don’t treat them like they’re the felon in the restaurant,” he says. “And there are resources out there for other employers. Use them.”

Being able to help people get back on their feet after being incarcerated is well worth the effort, according to Johnson. “Once given the chance, watching someone turn their life around and seeing their demeanor change and develop a sense of self worth and accomplishment is very rewarding,” he says.

For more information on Home of Chicken and Waffles and to check out the restaurants’ menu, visit


Helping people find jobs in the aftermath of the great recession

The recession has changed hiring practices in both subtle and dramatic ways – ways that some job developers may not be aware of. Larry Robbin, a nationally known expert in the area of workforce development, brought job developers up to date in a workshop sponsored by the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development on March 6.

“The recession has changed how companies hire and who they hire,” Robbin says.

With more than 14 million people out of work and less than 3 million positions open, the job market has become more competitive than at any time since the great depression of 1929.

There are two things that job seekers need to be successful in today’s market, according to Robbin. No, it’s not networking skills or a top-notch resume, although these are important as well. The most important qualities of job seekers are their ability to manage rejection and their determination to stay in the game. Otherwise they lose.

As job developers, you need to look for every angle you can to encourage healthy competition. Job seekers have to know how to compete, says Robbin. If you’re doing mock interviews, for example, have the people who are observing vote on the best interview and critique what is said. Those who don’t present themselves well may get their feelings hurt, but it will prepare them to do better during the actual interview.

Celebrate success

When anyone in your organization gets a job you should make a big deal about it. Send out an email saying that so and so got a job offer, and here’s what they did that was creative to get that job. Put an easel or a whiteboard in a public place with the names of everyone who got a job that week written on it. Encouraged those hired to get up in front of a group and tell others how they got their job. This is particularly good for people with barriers to employment. Celebrate their success.

Create successful role models. As a society, we’re information heavy and role model light. The more role models you can show people, the more they will be able to stick with their job search and eventually succeed, Robbin says.

Partner with local businesses

One barrier to employment for many people is a fear of meeting employers. These job seekers may lack the confidence that they’re good enough or don’t think they make a positive impression. To overcome this, create situations where employers and job seekers can meet in a relatively informal setting. Sponsor “Meet the Employer” days, and invite hiring managers from local companies to attend.

If you have business people on your board of directors, get them to come into the program to talk to your clients. Contact your local senior center and find retired people who can talk about their careers and what made them successful.

Teach job seekers how to deal with stereotypes

You need to work with job seekers so they understand the stereotype of the group they represent. Those looking for work need to determine what employers are going to be thinking about them and what can they can do to counter that. Ex-offenders should develop a Turn Around Talk and Turn Around Packet, which is explained on this website and in our soon-to-be-published book.

Older workers need to talk about how much physical activity they do and how healthy they are. Workers in their 20s actually miss three times as many days of work as seniors, but the common belief is that seniors will be absent because of health issues.

Help job seekers develop face-to-face networking opportunities

While many people think of “networking” as something that you do at official business events, there are so many informal ways to get to know people who may be able to help you in your job search. Here are a few of them:

  • Volunteer for an organization or event where many people are involved.
  • Take a class.
  • Get involved in a hobby group.
  • Join a sports team.
  • Get involved in a political campaign or cause.
  • Attend local government meetings where business people will be present.
  • Join Toastmasters International, which will provide excellent opportunities to practice speaking in public in preparation for interviewing.
  • Join a church group.
  • Go to a gym.
  • If you have children, get involved in their school.
  • Attend local chambers of commerce mixers.
  • Throw a party or picnic and invite friends with different types of jobs. Tell them to bring a friend.

Helping job seekers with barriers

There are many ways to work with job seekers who face barriers, but one excellent tactic is to look at the annual reports of various large public companies to see if they have initiatives to hire people with certain types of barriers. Many do. Some hire ex-offenders, others the homeless or those with disabilities.

Teach seekers to consider profit centers

You need to teach job seekers how to determine what a business’s profit centers are and how they can contribute to them. For example, a restaurant owner is hiring someone to bus tables. Figure out what the three most important profit centers for this job are. The most likely are the ability to do the work quickly and efficiently so there will be a higher turnover of customers. Not breaking any dishes. Being kind to customers so they’ll want to return.

We’ve offered a few tips on how to help your job-seeking clients find work in these tough times. Can you think of any other ideas? If so, please send them our way.


How to close the referral gap

The referral gap is a barrier that job developers must deal with on a regular basis.

People often need to go to a referral resource to deal with their barriers, but many won’t go. Larry Robbin, a nationally known expert in the area of workforce development, offers advice on how to close that gap and ensure that job seekers with hidden barriers to employment seek out the extra help they need.

Here are a few ways to make sure that happens:

  • Organize a partner agency referral system and cross train each other. Through that process you can try to find a crack in the system that no agency is dealing with and collaborate on finding a funding source to take care of it.
  • Introduce the notion of referrals to your clients early on. In the orientation say you don’t know everything about everything and you will refer them to specialists who can help them.
  • Take photos of the resource. When Robbin’s clients did this so that job seekers could see exactly where they would be going, his clients increased referral throughput by 38 percent.
  • Sell the resource. Don’t just describe it. Tell them your track record with the resource. This will give clients the confidence that they’re not wasting their time.
  • Refer people to a person not a place, and sell them on that person. People will be much more likely to go if there’s a name and not just an address.
  • Use referral-resource alumni. Connect the job seeker to someone who has used that resource. That person can tell them – probably better than you could — about their experience and what it was like to go there.
  • Have your client make an appointment while they are meeting with you.
  • Position yourself as a referral-system advocate. Encourage them and talk up the resources.
  • Schedule a timely follow-up. Talk to clients right after they go to their appointments, either in person or on the phone. Get feedback and pass it on to the resource so they can improve their services.
  • Create an agreement that will encourage job seekers facing hidden barriers to succeed. It can have the following format:




Job seeker name:


Today I promise to take a big step forward to improve my life. Today I will



The benefits of doing this will be



The employment specialist agrees to help by



We agree to work together to make this important step as successful as possible.


______________________                __________________________

Client signature                                             Your signature


How to deal with hidden barriers

In our last post we defined hidden barriers to employment. In this one we are once again going to rely on Larry Robbin to help us determine how to deal with those barriers.

Here are a few tips:

  • The way for job developers to get people to talk about their barriers is to talk about their own first. A successful technique that Larry Robbin uses is to tell people his own hidden barriers to employment, such as the fact that he’s hard of hearing, is a cancer survivor and has PTSD.
  • Talk about common hidden barriers you see in your program. When you bring up the hidden barriers early, it starts people on the process of recognizing and working on them and can help lower their denial and resistance.
  • Talking about how you and your program helped people overcome these barriers gives a person hope. They will be more likely to be successful in eliminating the barrier.
  • Have people who have overcome hidden barriers speak in your group orientations.
  • Distribute a list of the most common hidden barriers to employment seen in your program with information on how they were overcome.
  • Work from a social systems model to get the input of others who know the jobseeker. Find out what these people know that you don’t know and what they see that you don’t see.
  • Have program participations, staff or other people who have overcome hidden barriers teach you how to spot them.
  • Celebrate the strength it took to acknowledge the barrier. Talk bout how this strength will help the jobseeker deal with that barrier. It’s important to celebrate the breakthroughs. Many people only concentrate on the negative stuff, not the good stuff.
  • Talk about how dealing with the barrier will not only help the individual but also the other people in their lives.
  • Conduct workplace tours and employer panels to get people comfortable with the idea of going back to work.

In the past two blog entries, we’ve dealt with defining and dealing with hidden barriers to employment. In our next entry, we’ll discuss how to close the referral gap.