Second Chance Employer Profile
Tech Valley Shuttle
While all second chance employers have a mission centered on hiring formerly incarcerated individuals, Trent Griffin-Braaf takes his one step further. His mission is to combat poverty through transportation solutions. And he does this through Tech Valley Shuttle, the Albany, NY, area company he founded in 2016.
Tech Valley Shuttle has 32 employees. All of them are from underserved populations, and 80 percent has been justice-impacted.
The company’s fleet consists of 20-pax and 14-pax shuttle buses. 14-pax and 11-pax vans and airport shuttles, mini vans and sedans. They have the capability to move from one passenger to as many as 100 passengers at a time. Headquartered in Cohoes, NY, its service area is the greater capital region of Albany, from Lake George to Poughkeepsie, a 200-mile stretch.
Griffin-Braaf’s company was launched to provide hotel transportation, but as ride sharing reached his area of operations, he decided to expand his offerings.
“First we pivoted into group transportation. Then I sat on committees in transportation. I got the poverty report and decided that many of the issues related to poverty are related to a lack of transportation. During Covid things slowed down, so I started calling around county officials, school districts and nonprofits asking how we can help. I asked if they needed anything or if we could deliver anything. We started doing it complementary, and most of them wanted to continue the service with payment after Covid,” Griffin-Braaf says.
Now, in addition to providing rides to the Albany airport and Amtrak station, and non-emergency medical and wedding transportation, Tech Valley Shuttle offers a variety of transportation programs that help combat poverty and improve the lives of those in the community. These include:
- Community prison shuttles. On Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and one random day each year, the company provides a free shuttle service to New York state correctional facilities, so that people can visit family members who are incarcerated.
- Student transportation. Tech Valley Shuttle delivers young people from the inner city to private schools and schools in areas that have higher graduation rates than those in their neighborhood. It also works with nonprofit partners to develop and provide summer college tours.
- Food delivery. Working with various counties that fund the program, the company provides two shuttles per week in each county to take individuals who live in food deserts to grocery stores. It also delivers orders to those who can’t make it to the grocery stores.
- Driven to Work. Tech Valley Shuttle works with employers to provide transportation services to employees who need it.
Second chance hiring practices
Griffin-Braaf served seven years of a 12-year sentence for a nonviolent drug offence. Upon release, he had trouble finding work. When he did find a job cleaning toilets at a Marriott, he managed to become the hotel’s general manager six years later. And now he wants to offer opportunities to others in reentry.
Tech Valley Shuttle does background checks on all of its candidates for employment. “We do background checks since we provide school services and want to make sure their violations don’t involve children,” he says. “I also want to check their background to make sure what they’re saying is truthful.”
The positions available include drivers, salespeople, managers, trainers, marketing reps and human resource personnel.
Griffin-Braaf has created a program to train his employees and potential employees – his own and those who may eventually work for other companies – called Roadmap to Success. He teaches this program on a regular basis at area prisons and jails.
“We train people for their future. It’s essentially our onboarding process. It’s the curriculum that I use in the prisons. Each week I go into the prison system – to Green Correctional Facility, Schenectady County Jail and Berkshire Youth Detention Center. The program varies from eight to 12 weeks,” he says. “At completion they get a certificate, and that’s when I’m able to start connecting them with employers and get individuals employment while incarcerated, so they walk out of a jail and into a job. I’m currently working with over 550 employers.”
In addition to providing Roadmap to Success to his own employees, Griffin-Braaf uses Coursera courses to train managers and Sandler Sales Training for his sales staff. He’s established a partnership with a local community college, where employees can take classes, and a CDL (commercial drivers’ license) school to train the company’s drivers.
Although it’s been a lot of hard work and effort, becoming a second chance employer has many rewards.
It’s been rewarding “watching employees excel and grow,” he says. “We had a team member who came in as a driver. Now she has a commercial driver’s license and is our fleet manager. It’s rewarding when you hear about people’s success and that they are so thankful for the opportunities to be in positions that they never thought they’d be able to be in. You watch people grow and succeed. Some people who received their degrees while incarcerated had low self-esteem, but now they’re successful and thriving. That’s the kind of stuff that means a whole lot to me.”
Griffin-Braaf offers advice to others who might be thinking about instituting second chance hiring.
“If you’re really serious about this it takes a lot of effort. Focus on learning and developing members of your team. Employers should educate themselves on the incentives related to bringing returning citizens into the workforce – like bonding,” he says. “You have to learn about the population. If you don’t know the difference between a misdemeanor and a felon, you won’t be effective. On the backend you need to start to build pipelines like we have. Then you’ll get individuals who are loyal employees.”
“Have faith in individuals. There are thousands of people in this world who need an opportunity. Be the person who believes in the next person.”
In addition to expanding his shuttle business, Griffin-Braaf plans to expand his outreach and assist other organizations across the nation that would like to integrate returning citizens into their workforce.