Jeffrey Korzenik lays out a blueprint for second chance hiring in his new book

Jeffrey Korzenik

Jeffrey Korzenik

In Untapped Talent: How Second Chance Hiring Works for Your Business and the Community, Jeffrey Korzenik, author and chief investment strategist of Fifth Third Bank, makes the case for hiring people who have criminal records. And he outlines strategies companies can take to achieve success in doing so.

Korzenik begins by defining the challenges that businesses are facing and will continue to face in the coming decades because of a shortage of talent. Companies need workers to service their customers and grow their business, but that’s becoming increasingly difficult in a country with declining birthrates, as well as people leaving the workforce because of retirement, Covid or other reasons.

Those with records provide labor opportunity

At the same time, 19 million Americans have a felony conviction. And, according to Korzenik, the “deepest and broadest labor opportunity” can be found among those who can’t find a job because they have a criminal record.

And many of these people have sought-after experience, whether they hold a professional degree, have trade experience or have participated in job-related training and received industry certification for various skills.

For anyone with any doubt about whether this population makes reliable workers, Korzenik cites Johns Hopkins Health System and ACLU studies indicating that those with criminal records have low turnover rates, usually lower than employees without records.

He defines what determines who is a criminal, often asking people if they have done certain things that, if caught, would make them a criminal as well. In addition, due to various interpretations of the law, a felony crime in one state may be just a misdemeanor in another.

Three hiring models

Because those who have records need jobs and employers need workers, second chance employment may be the answer. But there is a right way and a wrong way to do it, according to Korzenik. And he outlines three models for hiring applicants with criminal records:

The Disposable Employee Model – Employers hire those with criminal records in entry-level positions for two reasons. They don’t have to pay them much and they can take advantage of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. This model offers no services to help people, once employed, rebuild their lives.

The Undifferentiated Model – In this, the most common model, employers hire people from this population in the same way they hire other employees. It can result in extremes in which workers can be excellent or terrible, and there is often high turnover.

The True Second Chance Model – This is the most effective model and creates better workers. It involves two processes:

  • Identifying potential employees through referrals from current employees or from nonprofit organizations. To achieve success, Korzenik offers a series of things to consider when choosing a nonprofit partner.
  • Putting practices in place – including wraparound services and mentoring – to support the needs of these workers.

To enlighten readers, Korzenik includes a variety of examples of companies that have successfully instituted second chance hiring. He devotes an entire chapter to JBM Packaging, a family business in Lebanon, Ohio. At JBM, 31 out of 150 employees in 2020 were what Marcus Sheanshang, the company’s president and CEO, likes to call “fair chance” hires.

At Nehemiah Manufacturing Co. of Cincinnati, another example cited by Korzenik, 130 of its 180 employees are second chance hires, and the company employs three social workers to deal with needs such as housing support and providing micro-loans.

Examples of the types of documents your company can use

Some of the book’s most valuable information can be found in its appendices, where Korzenik incorporates examples of practical documents that JBM Packaging uses for second chance hiring.

These include:

The Applicant Screening Form used for pre-release consideration

In addition to requesting data such as potential out date and position considered for, it also delves deeper and asks people, among other things:

  • How did you get here? What led to your incarceration?
  • Do you have work experience? Externally or internally?
  • Who is in your circle of support?
  • What have you learned about yourself while incarcerated?

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Recruiting Document

This document offers a lists of FAQs that JBM gives to the ODRC before it does a recruiting visit to one of the department’s facilities.

The Fair Chance Coaching Commitment

This form outlines the commitments that employees need to make in order to participate in JBM’s one-on-one coaching program, as well as the commitment made by the coach.

Join the second chance hiring movement

Not only does Untapped Talent: How Second Chance Hiring Works for Your Business and the Community provide a blueprint for creating this practice, but it just may convince you to consider becoming part of the second chance hiring movement in whatever role you wish to play.


A conversation with Jeffrey Korzenik

Jails to Jobs talked with Jeffrey Korzenik to learn more about his efforts to bring attention to second chance hiring. (His comments are edited and condensed.)

How, when and why did you get interested in second chance hiring?

Around 2014 I got really interested in the labor force problems we were having in the U.S. The number of people in the workforce had been falling since 2000. At the same time I met with employers who had figured out how to bring marginalized workers back into the labor force in ways that made a lot of sense for the employees, as well as for the companies. It became inspirational to see what these companies did, and it became a business model.

I started to write about second chance hiring in articles and shared information with our bank customers. Then it took off. In 2019, I was on 129 flights, doing public speaking largely because of the demand for information on this subject. Employers would get interested but then go back to their businesses not being able to implement it. Part of the reason I wrote the book was to provide best practices and to prove that second chance hiring works. This is something that businesses are now actually doing and doing successfully,

Have you been involved in actually doing it yourself for the bank you work for?

Yes. I’m not part of the bank’s hiring process, but I recently sponsored a young man who had a criminal record. He is highly motivated and has great personal skills. Because of an unbelievable minor transgression, however, he had been refused employment by several other banks.

Why should a company engage in second chance hiring?

Because it’s a path to highly engaged and loyal employees. But you have to go about it with intentionality and understand what you’re doing. It requires effort to set up a selection and support process that works for this population. Many of the problems that this group comes with are not because of their criminal records but are the result of intergenerational poverty, a lack of mentorship and a lack of  exposure to such work norms as showing up on time, dressing appropriately and interacting with coworkers – many of the things that people take for granted.

What’s the No. 1 characteristic of a company that successfully implements second chance hiring?

A spirit of innovation. They must be willing to try the unconventional, to accept setbacks along the way and be able to learn from failure.

What are the most important things that a company considering second chance hiring can do?

The most important step they can take is to go visit a company that is already doing this successfully. That shortens the learning time. It’s an effective proof of concept and helps create buy-in among the executive ranks. Good second chance hiring tends to be clustered in certain areas of the country, because one company does it successfully and others then follow.

What’s the best way for someone with a criminal record to find a company that follows the True Second Chance Model that you write about in your book?

There is no easy way to do that. But you can work with your local American Jobs Center to find service providers who are connected with second chance employers.

How can the business community get more companies involved in this movement toward second chance hiring?

It’s already starting to happen. More and more business associations like the National Association of Manufacturers are taking this on and promoting it to their members. The National Restaurant Association is working on a program. The Second Chance Business Coalition will be a very important component of this, and its members are among the best known names in American business. As these organizations roll out their programs and make them public, it will go a long way towards supporting this movement.

Employers should recognize that it’s not an all or nothing proposition. They may not be ready to hire someone, but there are lots of things they can do to test the waters. Hospitals, for example, use all kinds of outside services and often write into their vendor contracts that vendors aren’t allowed to bring someone on site who has a criminal records. If you’re XYZ hospital system and have millions of dollars of contracts every year, look into your procurement, and make sure that any restrictions like that are eliminated.


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