Reentry simulation educates participants on what it’s like to come out of prison

Reentry simulation

Participants in a reentry simulation in Roseburg, Ore., perform the tasks required to begin their new lives.

Want to know what it’s like to leave prison and begin to reintegrate into society? Is it possible to really understand the difficulties and challenges involved? Now at least people can get a basic understanding of the process by attending one of the reentry simulation programs popping up around the country.

Each program, whether offered by a church, nonprofit or government agency, is a bit different but all have the same goal – to walk in the shoes of those in reentry. And it’s much more difficult than anyone could ever imagine.

Participants take on new identity

Reentry simulations replicate in an hour or two what returning citizens must accomplish during their first month back in society. Participants take on the identity of someone who was incarcerated and are given information on their offence(s), living situation, work details, if any, and anything else they need to know. They also receive a list of tasks to complete.

The events take place in a large meeting room lined with tables. Each table is supported by a volunteer who represents a service that the reentry participants will need to access. These include probation, the court, an employer, treatment, DMV, housing, job training, social security, transportation and a community support organization. Volunteers are given instructions on how to serve the people who come to their table and told to not be accommodating.

Participants must go through the various tasks, and if they can’t complete them, they’re out.

What actually happens in a reentry simulation

Christy Grammon is executive director of True North Star Ministries in Roseburg, Ore. and now also organizes reentry simulations. She talks about her first experience.

“I was Amber. I had a part time job, six bus tickets, $200 in cash, a couple of things to pawn and was in transitional housing. Although I didn’t have a state I.D., I had a social security card,” she says. “You had to have a bus ticket to get services. I had six tickets for that week. There was a bus terminal to buy more.”

She went through a few of the initial tasks. “Then I picked a card at the treatment table that said I didn’t pass and had to have treatment. By then I was running out of time, and I had to get to my job. There was a long line at my job to fill out the entry paper work. So I decided to leave work and to go the probation office, but I didn’t have a bus ticket. So I was out the first week.”

Experience can make participants shocked and angry

Daniel Dinan, sales manager at DNS Call Centers in Roseburg, Ore., was a participant in Grammon’s reentry simulation. Like many others, the experience made him shocked and angry.

“Participants were saying, “Oh my gosh, this is what really goes on? Why are we doing this to people? Why do we make it so difficult?,” he says. “It’s a mixture of frustration. A mixture of disgust for why we treat people like this. People were thinking ‘Look what we’re missing in our community. We’re creating a cycle for this to continue, and I’m part of it.’”

Dinan,  reflecting on his experience, says, “You understand that there’s a problem, but you don’t understand how difficult it is. Once you live in their moment, you walk in their shoes, it’s very powerful.”

Do your own reentry simulation program

Anyone interested in doing a program for their company or organization can check out the website of the United States Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of West Virginia. It explains the agency’s reentry simulation program and allows anyone who would like to do their own program to download the materials they will need.

Those interested can also contact Grammon, who is considering conducting her reentry simulation programs throughout the U.S. “Invite us to come train you. We need to equip every state to do this. Even the Rotary Club and the chambers of commerce. And I’d like to see the larger businesses do it for their staff,” she says. Grammon can be reached at tnsministries@gmail.com.

The Homecoming Project offers first-of-its-kind housing program for those in reentry

The Homecoming Project

Jason Jones with hosts Tamiko Panzella and Joe Klein. Photo courtesy of Impact Justice

Leaving prison and having no place to call home is an all too typical scenario for those in reentry. But one California nonprofit has created The Homecoming Project, a unique program to deal with this challenge.

That nonprofit is the Oakland, Calif.-based Impact Justice, a national organization working on justice reform. The idea: Have local residents rent a room to someone in reentry. The program not only provides a home to people who desperately need one but also offers hosts that participate a unique opportunity.

Impact Justice’s pilot project was launched last August, and 12 people have been placed in homes in Alameda County (where Oakland is located) so far. The first set of hosts came from the faith community and prison-based organizations, but a host recruiter is doing outreach to expand awareness of the program.

Much more than just a housing program

The Homecoming Project goes beyond providing just a place to live. It also offers support to both participants and hosts.

Each of the participants works with a community navigator on an individual reentry plan. “The reentry plan requires assignments – attending job fairs, getting their documents, receiving long term housing counseling and doing technology advancement, along with dealing with budgeting and financing,” says Terah Lawyer, project coordinator for The Homecoming Project.

“They can come up with their own personal goals whether it’s reuniting with a child, becoming involved in their community or educational goals. Anything that is pertinent to their success. The community navigator will connect them to resources to help them achieve those goals.”

The hosts make a commitment as well. They first must attend host readiness school to determine whether they are ready to host a particular individual. “We do an assessment. We look at what is their profession, what is their community involvement. In addition, we look at their home and their neighborhood to make sure it’s OK to live in,” says Lawyer.

The program lasts for six months, and the hosts are paid a stipend of $750 per month during that time. They attend host sessions every 45 days with their returnees that focus on a variety of topics. These include parole conditions, conflict resolution, and budgeting and financing.

Although still a bit of an experiment, the program is achieving success. “We are bringing the community together and building relationships. People coming home from prison can really reintegrate,” says Lawyer.

One of those relationships has been established between Tamiko Panzella and her boyfriend, Joe Klein, who have welcomed 35-year-old Jason Jones to share their Oakland apartment. And for them it’s been a very positive experience.

The best thing about being a host

The best thing is having a relationship,” Panzella says. “Each host is really different. We live in a two-bedroom, 900-square-foot place, so we’re really close. Others have separate living quarters, and it’s more like a tenant situation. We were looking for someone to be a friend and part of the family.”

And they got what they were looking for. “Jason brings a different perspective. He went through crisis counseling while incarcerated. He did a lot of restorative justice training, so he brings emotional intelligence. We have a really strong friendship. He’s close with our whole family, with my mom,” she adds.

Panzella and Klein have been so happy with the situation that Jones has stayed beyond the six months. Although he’s looking for a place of his own, they’re in no hurry for him to leave. She says that they’re really happy they decided to be hosts. And other people who might consider doing the same can be assured that they will be supported.

“If people are feeling nervous, we have more protection than getting a roommate off of Craigslist,” Panzella says. “They came in with suggested house rules. They came in with a lot of support at the beginning to help get it set up. It’s been really rewarding. We’ve gotten to meet a lot of people we wouldn’t have otherwise crossed paths with. We have new friends.”

Meanwhile, Impact Justice is hoping to expand The Homecoming Project. Although currently operating only in Alameda County, the organization plans to include neighboring Contra Costa County, provided it can get the funding. “We hope to go around the country and train other organizations on how to implement this in the community,” Lawyer says.

The 2020 Census is hiring thousands of workers nationwide

2020 Census is hiringHaven’t found a full-time job yet? Interested in doing something worthwhile that will help your community while you’re still looking?

The U.S. 2020 Census is hiring  thousands of people across the nation and in Puerto Rico for a variety of jobs. These temporary positions include census takers, office staff, recruiting assistants and supervisors.

To qualify, you must be:

  • A U.S. citizen
  • 18 years or older
  • Able to work flexible hours – days, evenings and weekends

And you must have:

  • A valid social security number
  • Working email address
  • A valid driver’s license and access to a vehicle (unless public transportation is available)

While there’s no box to check on the application, there is a Census-performed background check and a review of criminal records. And you must be fingerprinted before the first day of the job. Supervisors have no information about a worker’s background. They only know whether or not they passed the background check.

How applicants with criminal records are judged

Applicants with criminal records are judged based on the nature of the offense, the length of time passed, evidence of rehabilitation and other factors considered by the FBI.

The hourly wage depends on location, and you can find the pay for your area by checking out the job locations page on the Census Bureau website. It’s possible to search locations by state and city to see where people are being hired and the range of pay. For example, in Birmingham, Ala., census takers get paid from $14.50 to $18.00 per hour. In St. Louis, Mo., it’s $19.50. And in San Francisco, the pay is $30. Mileage is also paid for car use.

The jobs that the 2020 census is hiring for will last for several weeks, and hiring is currently underway. The first step is to apply online. Applicants, once hired, go through paid training before beginning the actual work. It may be several weeks between when applicants receive a job offer and they begin training.

California expands funding for prison tattoo removal program

Pre-release tattoo removal program

San Quentin State Prison will be one of the California facilities where the pre-release tattoo removal program will take place. (Photo: prisoncount.org)

California is spending $6.4 million to expand its pre-release tattoo removal program from two locations to 21 prisons and facilities across the state. The effort will take place over the next four years.

The program began in 2018 at the Folsom Women’s Facility and the Custody to Community Transitional Reentry Program in Sacramento under a contract with the California Prison Industry Authority. The large demand for tattoo removal led to the dramatic increase in funding and programs, which will now be under the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

“Highly visible tattoos unfortunately present a significant obstacle to employment, and their removal can also signify a new chapter in someone’s life. We treated about 140 women at CCTRP and FWF with more requesting services beyond what the current contract is able to provide. Hence, the expansion,” says Krissi Khokhobashvili, chief, Office of External Affairs, CDCR.

Program will take place at 21 prisons and facilities

The new sites were chosen based on location – to make sure services are spread throughout the state and be available to all genders and security levels.

The locations where tattoo removal procedures will soon take place: Avenal State Prison, Central California Women’s Facility (Chowchilla), California Health Care Facility (Stockton), California Men’s Colony (San Luis Obispo), California State Prison-Corcoran, Deuel Vocational Institution (Tracy), Folsom State Prison (men’s), Kern Valley State Prison (Delano), Mule Creek State Prison (Ione), North Kern State Prison (Delano), Pleasant Valley State Prison (Coalinga), California State Prison-Sacramento, Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (Corcoran), Sierra Conservation Center (Jamestown), California State Prison-Solano, San Quentin State Prison, Salinas Valley State Prison (Soledad), Valley State Prison (Chowchilla) and Wasco State Prison.

The CDCR has proposed that those eligible for the procedure have highly visible tattoos. They must also be nearing release to the community or have completed gang debriefing (a formal, multi-step gang disassociation process). Based on the number of members of these two groups, the CDCR estimates that as many as 3032 people could receive treatment each fiscal year.

While tattoo removal at the two existing programs is done by a mobile tattoo removal unit, the CDCR has not yet determined how the procedures will be carried out in the additional facilities. A decision will be made once the vendors are selected.

Tattoo removal services to begin January 2020

The competitive bidding process begins this month. The procedure is an invitation for bid rather than a request for proposal. In an RFP, which is usually for new services and programs, bidders propose how they will deliver their services and the price they will charge. An IFB, on the other hand, gives information on the tattoo removal services and how they will be delivered. It then asks bidders to submit what it would cost them to provide those services.

Those who are interested can find out more information and submit a bid through the CaleProcure website. They can also contact  the CDCR’s External Affairs Chief Khokhobashvili, at Kristina.Khokhobashvili@cdcr.ca.gov or 916-324-6508. The actual tattoo removal services will begin in January 2020.

CDCR will evaluate the program during year three of the four-year contract to determine its effectiveness. At that point, the department may request additional funding to continue the program and expand tattoo removal services to California’s remaining adult institutions.

Individuals who start their tattoo removal process on the inside but still require additional treatments for completion once released may be able to find a free or low-cost tattoo removal program by checking out Jails to Jobs’ national directory of these programs.

Jails to Jobs is happy to offer a complimentary copy of our how-to guide for establishing such a program to any organization that plans to create a free or low-cost community-based tattoo removal program. Those interested can contact us to request a copy.

 

Beyond ban the box: Open Hiring creates jobs for ex-offenders and those with barriers to employment

Open Hiring

These Greyston bakers were hired without submitting a resume or going through an interview or a background check.

No resume, no interview, no background check. Just add your name to the hiring list, and you’ll eventually have a job.

Sound incredible? There’s actually a company that does just that. Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York, conducts what it calls Open Hiring™. In other words, it will hire anyone who wants to work, a practice that could revolutionize the lives of those with criminal records. And it’s working to convince others to do the same.

Since 1982, the company has been baking the brownies that go into Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice Cream – seven million pounds of brownies each year. And it accomplishes this with a social mission.

“The company is known for saying, “We don’t hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people,” says Jennifer Ocean, vice president, marketing & communications at Greyston.

The bakery has been hiring anyone who wants to work throughout its 37 years of existence. The number of employees ranges between 150 and 175, and about 60 percent of them have criminal records.

Open Hiring provides job opportunities to people with barriers to employment

“Open Hiring is a model, a practice and a philosophy. It’s about providing job opportunities and resources to people who had barriers to employment in their past, working to remove those barriers and helping them achieve future potential. It’s about meeting people where they are and is based on the Buddhist principles of our founder Bernie Glassman,” says Ocean. “Open Hiring is not just about hiring, but it’s about everything we do as a company. How people are treated, how we help employees thrive in their communities and how we make an impact on the community at large.”

Once hired, all new employees go through an apprenticeship to teach them how to do the job. The company also has a care provider to help people solve any problems they may have either on the job or in their personal lives. The provider works for and is paid by a nonprofit organization to assist Greyston employees in areas where they need help, such has procuring housing or child care or resolving conflicts.

The system has worked well for Greyston, with dedicated workers who are happy to have a job. Twenty percent of apprentices who join Greyston make it to full-time employment, and 79 percent of these will remain for at least four years before moving up or on to something else.

Using what it has learned, the company is helping others carry out the practice through its Center for Open Hiring. Launched last year, the Center helps organizations figure out the best way to implement Open Hiring based on their own culture.

So far, its two biggest partners are the Start Foundation and Ben & Jerry’s. Located in the Netherlands, the Start Foundation is working with a large retailer there to implement Open Hiring. Ben & Jerry’s hopes to establish the process in some of its factories throughout the U.S. based on the Greyston model.

Why companies should do Open Hiring

Open Hiring as a practice can help create a better world. “It has benefits to society, to human beings and to business,” says Ocean. “Hiring costs are lower. The cost of bringing someone into a company is something like $5,000. It costs a lot of money to try to screen people out of an organization, when we can bring people into the organization who are willing to work and are good employees.

Open Hiring reduces recidivism. We’ve provided 3,500 jobs over the past 37 years. It’s also brought positive impact to one of the poorest communities in New York.”

In addition, the practice benefits business. “The good thing about Open Hiring is that you can start with small steps. It could be one job. It could be one job in the stock room. One job in the mail room,” she adds.

And that job could lead to more jobs and a new company culture of inclusion. Greyston is an example for others to follow and shows the impact that Open Hiring can have.

“Open Hiring is tremendous for morale. It has such a positive effect, because we believe in the potential of people, and we create a world of opportunities. All the bakers speak about what an impact it has on their lives. For some people it could be their first job ever. It could be their first chance,” says Ocean.

If your company is interested in implementing Open Hiring, feel free to contact the Center for Open Hiring at Greyston.

Commercial motor coach companies offer employment opportunities for ex-offenders

motor coach drivers

Alicia Nolan went from being a lifer in prison to a life as a motor coach driver.

Formerly incarcerated people often become discouraged in their search for employment, facing obstacles that may be hard to overcome. While many jobs are closed to them, a tight job market and new attitudes are forcing change among certain companies and industries. Like motor coach drivers. They’re in high demand. And many companies are eager to hire people who have records.

Take Alicia Nolan, for example. She works for Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation in the San Francisco Bay Area driving buses for Gillead Pharmaceuticals. Yes, those buses. The ones that take tech workers from the Silicon Valley to San Francisco and other places where passengers live.

Her current job is an extreme contrast to what took her to prison in the late 1980s. Nolan was a lifer, incarcerated for 24 years in Chowchilla, Calif., after being convicted of second-degree homicide as the driver of a car carrying a drive-by shooter.

But that was long ago, and Nolan has a new life. After gaining parole in 2013, she started driving for Google, her first job out of prison. The company provided her with a brand new Prius, and she delivered packages on the Google campus in Mountain View.

Get paid while training to be a motor coach driver

Her next job was with MV Transportation, then Gray Line, and after that she assumed her current position with Bauer, where her title is professional chauffeur/trainer. Her company offers a full training program for motor coach drivers, and they get paid during their training.

“You can get a class C permit by going to the DMV and taking the written test. But then you go to Bauer’s or MV Transportation, any company that has a training program, they will train you. You come with a clean driving record and permit, you get training pay rates when you’re in training. It can take anywhere from four to six weeks,” she says.

But it’s not easy driving a big motor coach. “After four to six weeks if you can’t do it, you’re not going to get it. Driving a big motor coach is really hard, and there’s a lot of things to learn before you drive.”

Nolan doesn’t feel that people with criminal records face barriers in the bus driving business, especially in San Francisco.

“They will hire an ex-felon before they will hire anybody, because they know they’re going to be at work. They know that they can rely on us,” Nolan says. “And Bauer’s will hire them. All the transportation companies will hire them. I went from making $12.75 at Google to $28.88 an hour, and when I do overtime I make $43 an hour.”

Good job for people in reentry

Being a commercial motor coach driver is a good job for someone in reentry, according to Nolan.

“It gives you some good customer service experience. For me I found a way that I can give back to the community every day. I come in contact with people every day. I have had some of the same passengers for 4-1/2 years. I’ll see my old passengers on campus, and they’ll wave at me,” she says. “People drive for different reasons. I went to prison as a driver, but at least I’m now driving precious cargo. Every mile I drive is dedicated to my victim.”

While being trained by motor coach companies may be one way to become a commercial bus driver, it’s certainly not the only one. Workforce Development Boards, for example, connect people to a variety of types of training and, in some cases, pay for that training including for professional drivers.

Located around the country, these organizations are funded through the U.S. Dept. of Labor and direct funding to workforce development.

Charles Brown, III, business services representative and reentry coordinator for the Workforce Development Board of Contra Costa County in California, says that his WDB connects people to transportation logistics training for professional Class A and Class B drivers.

Shortage of drivers means more opportunities for jobs

“Right now we don’t have enough drivers in the marketplace. We can’t train them fast enough,” he says. “Our training is eight weeks, and the trainers need to be on our eligibility list. I deal with fair chance employers and help organizations become trainers. We want to make sure that the person is a returning resident and that they can clear licensing.”

While many transport companies are willing to hire formerly incarcerated drivers, various state laws prevent people with certain kinds of felony convictions, like vehicular manslaughter, from getting commercial licenses.

The industry, however, is welcoming. And it provides excellent employment opportunities with decent wages.

There are also opportunities for those who might be more interested in driving a truck than a bus. San Francisco’s Mochary Foundation pays for truck driving training for those who been incarcerated. You can find out more by visiting the foundation’s website.

 

Looking for work? Here’s where the jobs will be

Jobs

Constructions jobs are increasing, and skilled labor is in high demand.

Job prospects are looking good these days, and a tight market means more and better opportunities for those seeking employment. In fact, 47 percent of companies plan on hiring contract or temporary employees, and 40 percent plan to hire full-time permanent employees this year.

These figures come from an annual survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder among 1,021 hiring and human resource managers and 1,010 employees between Dec. 20, 2018 and Jan. 16, 2019.

Jobs most in demand

The most in-demand types of jobs and the increased percentages in hiring, according to the survey:

  • Skilled labor: 25 percent
  • Data analysis: 21 percent
  • Digital marketing: 12 percent
  • Cyber security: 11 percent
  • AI/Machine learning: 10 percent
  • Healthcare: 10 percent

While CareerBuilder looked at types of jobs, the ManpowerGroup looked at 13 industry segments in its Q2 2019 ManpowerGroup Employment Outlook Survey of more than 11,500 U.S. employers.

Industry segments increase hiring

The strongest industry segments and their increased percentages in hiring:

  • Transportation and utilities: 25 percent
  • Leisure and hospitality: 25 percent
  • Wholesale and retail trade: 24 percent
  • Professional and business services: 23 percent
  • Mining: 19 percent
  • Construction: 19 percent
  • Durable goods manufacturing: 19 percent

“As U.S. employers continue to report double-digit hiring outlooks, demand for talent is growing across the board from cyber security experts and data analysts to delivery drivers needed to keep up with 24/7 online retail,” said Becky Frankiewicz, president of ManpowerGroup North America.

Companies willing to train

Don’t have the exact skills employers are looking for? Don’t worry. If you have potential, many employers may be willing to train you in some of the skills you might need.

“While a skills gap has created an environment where employers are having trouble finding qualified talent, employees’ and companies’ mutual dedication towards competency-based training indicates we have made leaps and bounds toward eliminating these obstacles. We’ve found that 59 percent of employers plan to train and hire workers who may not be 100 percent qualified but have potential,” says Irina Novoselsky, CEO of CareerBuilder.

And they’ve already been doing this. Sixty-three percent of employers in the CareerBuilder poll reported hiring someone without the required skills with plans to train them. And more than half have paid for an employee to get training or education to bring them up to speed.

Beyond technical and practical skills, soft skills are becoming increasingly important in the workplace. Ninety-two percent of employers say soft skills help determine whether they will hire candidates. And eighty percent also said that soft skills would be at least as important as hard skills. The top skills that employers mentioned to CareerBuilder are the ability to be team-oriented (51 percent), attention to detail (49 percent) and customer service (46 percent).

Want to start your own small business? Organizations offer free help to get you started

small business

Construction will be one of the fastest growing fields for self-employed workers in the years ahead.

Since this week, May 5-11, is National Small Business Week, it might be a time to think about the possibility of starting a business of your own.

And you won’t be alone. More than half of the people in this country either own or work for a small business. Those with an entrepreneurial spirit and a criminal record may find it easier to create their own employment rather than work for someone else.

It could be anything from painting houses or starting a food truck to dog walking or taking care of elderly people, but there are certain fields that are expected to grow faster than others. And they offer the types of jobs that are often done by those who are self-employed.

According to numbers published by the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics last year, there were about 9.6 million self-employed workers in 2016, and that number is expected to increase to 10.3 million by 2026.

Fastest growing job categories for the self-employed

Among the fastest growing categories for self-employed people between 2016 and 2026 are:

  • Personal care and service: 135,000 new jobs for self-employed workers
  • Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance: 83,000 new jobs for self-employed workers
  • Construction and extraction: 78,300 new jobs for self-employed workers
  • Transportation and material moving: 60,200 new jobs for self-employed workers

While that may give you an idea where some of the opportunities will be, you may have some thoughts of your own. Maybe you have a special skill or interest – like handyman repairs, fixing cars, cooking, housekeeping or helping people with mobility issues – that you can convert to employment.

Learning how to start a business

Whatever your interest or skill, you’ll still need to decide if having a business is the right path for you. And if it is, there are a few things to learn about creating your own employment.

Fortunately, there’s free help available.

One of the best resources around is your local Small Business Development Center. There are more than 1,000 of these across the U.S., and you can search for the one nearest you in the organization’s online database. The centers are sponsored by state economic development agencies, colleges and universities and private partners and are funded in part through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and offer free consulting and at-cost training.

If you’re a woman, you may want to look into the SBA Women’s Business Centers, a national network of more than 100 centers nationwide that cater to women entrepreneurs. The SBA added six more of these centers last year and maintains an online directory that is searchable by Zip Code.

Online education

Not sure whether your own business is the way to go? You can get a better idea of whether entrepreneurship is right for you by checking out the My Own Business Institute at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California. The institute offers free online education for entrepreneurs with two courses in both English and Spanish: Starting a Business and Business Expansion.

Starting a Business is the course that is relevant for those thinking about doing just that. The course is divided into 15 sessions and covers such things as

  • Deciding whether a business is for you
  • Creating a business plan
  • Home based businesses
  • How much money is needed and how manage financing
  • Dealing with licenses and permits

You may take the course at your own pace and after completion get certified for free.

The SBA also offers online education through its Small Business Learning Center.

Decided that your own business is for you?

After doing the research, you’ve decided that you’d like to be your own boss, the SBA supplies a free online tool to help put a business plan together.

With that in hand, you’ll be ready to meet with a volunteer mentor or counselor who can provide advice on the next steps to take. You can find one of these people through your local Small Business Development Center, Women’s Business Center or SCORE, a nonprofit organization that pairs people who want to start businesses with one of its 10,000 volunteer mentors who have experience to share.

Learn how to develop soft skills – they can help you get and keep a job

soft skills

Soft skills are particularly important for jobs in which people deal with the public.

Many people think that the hard skills they’ve developed are what will bring them success on the job. Recent studies, however, suggest that it’s the soft – or people – skills, that may be the key to success.

And it all starts with the interview. A survey of 400 HR/hiring professionals conducted for software provider iCMS in mid-2017 found that 75 percent of recruiting professionals have ended an interview early because the candidate didn’t demonstrate the soft skills they were seeking.

Although that may be true, once someone secures a job, soft skills are even more important.

But what exactly are these soft skills, and how do you learn them?

Soft skills are people skills

Soft skills are people skills that allow you to get along with and communicate with others effectively, manage situations and show leadership.

In fact, workplace expert Alison Doyle lists more than 150 of them in an article she wrote for thebalancecareers.com. Doyle divides soft skills into categories and includes all the supporting skills for each category. These categories are:

  • Communication – Communication skills are essential to getting along with a boss and co-workers. They include speaking, listening and writing, among others.
  • Critical thinking – Critical thinking is becoming increasingly important in a rapidly changing world and includes the ability to be creative, flexible, and innovative and to problem solve and troubleshoot.
  • Leadership – Although everyone is not in an official leadership role, leadership qualities are still needed to make decisions, manage conflicts and inspire and motivate the people you work with.
  • Positive attitude – People like to work with others who are friendly, happy and easy to get along with.
  • Teamwork – As more and more companies are dividing their employees into teams, such skills as collaboration, interpersonal skills and learning how to deal with difficult coworkers are skills that will help people do well in their jobs,
  • Work ethic – Companies value workers who are dependable, punctual, organized and can work well under pressure.
Soft skills can be rare among employees

A survey of 291 hiring managers conducted in the U.S. in 2016 by LinkedIn revealed that 59% of them considered soft skills difficult to find.

If soft skills are so hard to find, you can set yourself apart by developing some of the most important ones. Think about the job you are looking for and the industry it’s a part of. What soft skills are important to carry out that type of work?

For example, soft skills are particularly important in customer service jobs, whether it’s being a server at a restaurant, working in retail or providing tech support for a product.

While some of the skills are innate personality traits, many of them can be learned and practiced. But how do you that?

Ways to learn soft skills

There are many ways to learn soft skills. These range from community college courses to online tutorials. You can also improve your soft skills by reading books or joining organizations.

Community college courses. Check out the course offerings of your local community college. Many community colleges offer entire course curriculums on soft skills and job readiness.

Toastmasters International. To learn to be a better communicator, you may want to join your local chapter of Toastmasters International. This is an international organization that promotes communication and public speaking skills and has chapters in 141 countries.

Udemy. Online educational company Udemy offers a series of courses on developing soft skills. They’re not free, but the prices are affordable for most people.

Soft Skills Training: A Workbook to Develop Skills for Employment. Frederick A. Wentz wrote this book, which alternates articles and stories about people’s successes with exercises that make students think about the importance of soft skills.

YouTube. YouTube offers many videos on developing soft skills.

Your local public library.  Check with the librarian at your local library for suggested books to read and any online complimentary resources they offer.

 

From inmate to Leavenworth mayor: An inspiring story of a man who made a unique journey

Leavenworth mayor

Leavenworth Mayor Jermaine Wilson.

While politicians on occasion end up in prison for wrongdoing of one sort or another, Jermaine Wilson took the opposite path. He made it from prison to politics, now serving as the recently appointed mayor of Leavenworth, Kansas

And it’s an inspirational story that shows how someone can turn their life around and use their prison experience to create a better community.

Trouble started early for Wilson. Although raised in a church-going family, he was rebellious, ran away from home and committed his first crime at age 11. After spending six years in juvenile facilities, he returned to his old neighborhood and his so-called friends and started hustling drugs. One night about 18 months later in 2007 he was stopped by a police officer who found drugs in his car, was arrested for possession and ended up spending three years at the Lansing Correctional Facility on a felony conviction.

Dramatic life change in prison

But it was there that Wilson decided to make a drastic change in his life. “I called out to God and accepted the Lord in prison. And for the first time in my life I felt free,” he says. “I started to read the Bible. I started a business plan and came up with the idea of a nonprofit.”

After he was released in 2010, Wilson returned to the prison where he spent time and became a mentor to inmates. He visited churches and the juvenile facility to tell his story.

In 2015, his record was expunged, and he created Unity in the Community, a nonprofit similar to the one that he dreamed up while in prison.

“There was so much racial tension in our society, so we created an organization where whites, blacks and law enforcement could work together so that things would be good,” Wilson says. “We started feeding the homeless and mentoring the youth. A basketball event with the youth versus the local law enforcement got lots of people involved. We wanted everyone to know that it doesn’t matter what your race or occupation might be, but we’re in this together.”

As a result of the work he was doing, people told Wilson that he would be a good leader in the community and asked if he’d ever considered running for public office. No. He hadn’t but decided to try. In 2017 he received the most votes in the election for a spot on the Leavenworth City Commission.

Wilson was appointed mayor pro tem last year and the city’s mayor in January. And he didn’t waste any time putting together an agenda to help those who suffered similar experiences to his own. On his second day in office, Wilson launched a county-wide expungement for all those who were eligible.

“I partnered with the prosecutor. Lawyers provided services pro bono so they could get it done for free. The only charge will be the $190 court fee, which will be waived if applicants can’t afford it,” he says

Fifty people went through the process. The prosecutor processed the applications in mid-March, and court dates are being set.

Prison experience makes him a different sort of politician

There’s no doubt that Wilson is a unique mayor, and he feels his prison experience makes him so. “I know what it’s like to struggle. I know what’s it like to be at rock bottom,” he says. “It helps me to be a voice of the voiceless. With that experience I won’t forget people. I’ll be a representative for all of the people not just one particular group.”

Although his term as mayor only lasts one year, Wilson has other projects he’d like to accomplish. He’d love to get a transitional home for those in reentry and is currently looking for funding. He’d also like to increase the number of entertainment businesses in town, so residents don’t head for Kansas City malls. And, by the way, the north side of Leavenworth needs a grocery store.

Advice for others

What advice does Wilson have for other formerly incarcerated individuals who might want to consider getting involved in politics?

“A lot of us become a product of our environment. If you want be successful don’t be influenced by the things that are around you but be inspired by what’s inside you,” he says. “If you truly want to make a difference serve at every level and every opportunity that’s given to you. The reason that I say that is that I never had any aspirations, but the opportunity was given to me, and I served. And that has opened doors.”