How to begin a second chance hiring program and find dedicated employees

second chance hiring programHave you, like many employers, been considering a second chance hiring program but are not sure exactly how to go about doing it?

You’re not alone. With a labor shortage that is expected to last for several years, companies are beginning to realize that they need to expand their hiring practices to include people who are formerly incarcerated individuals.

After all, more than 600,000 people are released from prisons and 7 million from jails each year. That’s a lot of potential employees. And studies have revealed that those who have had past criminal justice involvement have lower turnover rates than similar employees who haven’t. In other words, they make loyal employees who are eager to do good work and get their lives back together. Even the military has found that to be true.  A study conducted by researchers at UMass Amherst, Harvard and George Washington University found that workers who were formerly incarcerated are promoted more rapidly and to higher ranks than other enlistees.

And, as more and more people in general are looking to work for employers with a diversified workforce when evaluating job offers and employers whose values they respect, hiring second chance employees will set your company apart.

So what are you waiting for?

How to institute second chance hiring

Although hiring an individual with lived experiences that are unfamiliar to you may seem a bit overwhelming, second chance candidates are not all that different than other people you’ve hired. And it shouldn’t prove that difficult.

And we have a few tips that will help you get started in the process.

Determine if your company is ready

You can see where your company is in its fair chance recruiting, human resources and employment practices by taking the 10-question Fair Chance Self Assessment offered by Envoy, a social impact advisory firm that specializes in fair chance employment, among other things.

Do your research

A great place to start is to read Untapped Talent: How Second Chance Hiring Works for Your Business and the Community. In it, economist Jeffrey Korzenik offers convincing evidence of why hiring people from this population makes sense. He also gives lots of examples of companies that have successfully launched second chance hiring initiatives and how you too can do it.

For those with any serious – and even not so serious – doubts, check out the studies on second chance hiring done by Johns Hopkins Health System and the ACLU. You also may want to read The Business Case for Criminal Justice Reform: Second Chance Hiring, published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Turn to experts for help

A handful of organizations have created programs to help those interested in creating a second chance hiring initiative.

The Manufacturing Institute, the education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers, for example, operates a program it calls Office Hours to answer questions from employers who may be considering second chance hiring. It offers 15-minute individual sessions and one-hour group sessions every quarter. You can register on the organization’s website.

Jobs for the Future acquired the Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation’s Second Chance Employment program in late 2022 and made it part of its Center for Justice and Economic Advancement. This program includes the Fair Chance Corporate Cohort, which offers a training ground for businesses and nonprofits that have committed to hiring former justice system involved individuals. Each cohort takes place over eight weeks and requires a three- to four-hour weekly commitment. Upon completion, cohort members will have a practical plan for implementing second chance hiring.

Contact those who have done it

Many companies are proud and happy to share their second chance hiring experiences. You can find some of these companies mentioned on our website, in Jeffrey Korzenik’s book and in Dave Killer Bread Foundation’s Second Chance Playbook. You can also see a list of major corporations on the website of the Second Chance Business Coalition, but it may be a bit of a challenge to find the right person to talk to in these companies. If that turns out to be the case, start with the person who handles or leads the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts as part of their talent/recruitment function. This is usually part of the human resources department.

Gain buy-in from your company’s leadership

Second chance hiring will not work without the support of your organization’s leaders. Put together a list of reasons why you think the practice will benefit your company or nonprofit and present them to management. If they seem interested, send them links to some of the studies mentioned in this article. And maybe suggest that they read Jeffrey Korzenik’s book.

Find recruiting partners

To set up successful second chance hiring practices, you’ll need a pipeline of potential applicants. You may want to list your job openings on Honest Jobs, the only job search engine that specifically caters to people looking for second chances. And Honest Jobs can even set up a second chance hiring program for your company or nonprofit.

While employment agencies offer a traditional way to find potential employees, you can also search out nonprofit organizations in your community that specialize in preparing formerly incarcerated job seekers to look for work. Dave’s Killer Bread includes a Second Chance Ecosystem map on its website that highlights some of these nonprofits.

National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC), maintains a directory of all current Second Chance Act grantees around the country and has compiled a comprehensive reentry grant profile for each state.

An internet search can be another very effective way of finding community partners who can make job applicant referrals. Search terms such as “reentry programs in (city name and/or county name)” are good ones to start with and should produce potential organizations to contact and screen. In addition to having the community partner’s support and help with sourcing people to interview, many of these organizations are able to offer support after you’ve hired their clients.

Another way to discover these organizations is to contact your local American Job Center. Sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Labor, these job centers were created to help job seekers find work. And many of them include people who specialize in working with those who want a fresh start. This link will take you to a search by location option to find offices that provide “Job Search Help for Ex-Offenders.”

Employment agencies provide another option

Also, be sure to check out the Kelly 33 Second Chance Program for possible direct and temp-to-hire job candidates using this new innovative Kelly Services program.

These tips we shared are just the beginning. The beginning of a chance to be a change maker. And to be part of a movement that will help thousands of people create a new life for themselves and contribute their unique talents and skills to the American workforce and your bottom line. Will you join them?

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