By Melissa Young, Director of Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty and Economic Opportunity and Quintin Williams, Field Building Manager for Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty and Economic Opportunity
At Heartland Alliance, we see the unjust impacts that the overreach of the criminal justice system has in the lives of those we serve and millions of others across the country every day. In Illinois, nearly 5 million adults (nearly 50%) have an arrest or conviction record, which create substantial barriers to work, housing, and well-being.
The federal, state, and local laws restricting rights and opportunities for people with a criminal record create a tightly woven web of barriers. These “collateral consequences” of having a criminal record can affect nearly every aspect of a person’s life – often indefinitely. All told, there are over 48,000 collateral consequences etched in statute or regulation for people who have a criminal record across the United States.[i] In Illinois, there are nearly 1,500 constraints on rights, entitlements, and opportunities on the books for individuals with a criminal record, many of which deny or restrict access to employment opportunities.[ii]
These impacts show up during the search for housing, when many are denied a roof over their heads due to their records. It shows up in education, where many post-secondary schools outright deny access to enrollment for persons with a criminal record or individuals are discouraged from applying because they see a big, bold box asking about their criminal background. And it shows up, consistently, in access to employment. Individuals are denied occupational licenses, barred from entire occupations or fields of practice, and often can’t even get in the door for a job interview as a result of being justice involved.
We recognize that in order to open doors to employment for people who have been justice involved we must dismantle the laws and restrictions standing in the way of economic and social equity as well as work directly with employers to widen doors of opportunity. That is why a few members of our team and other partners, met with the Business Executives Association of Chicago (BEA) last month. Employers are powerful gate keepers to jobs and opportunity and we saw our conversation with the BEA as chance to bring to light the scope and scale of the justice system, illuminate stories of those that have been directly impacted, and talk about how employer practices can widen doors to opportunity for people who have been justice involved.
Here is just some of the ground we covered during our meeting with BEA members:
- Nationally, over 70 million people have a criminal record. That’s 1 in 3 adults. The criminal justice system touches many millions of people across the country directly and indirectly. Our team members lifted up their lived experience of the criminal justice system by telling their own personal stories about the impact of the criminal justice system on their lives.
- BEA members were shocked at the sheer number of collateral consequences on the books in Illinois. Collateral consequences denying and restricting access to employment and education – in particular – perpetuates poverty and inequity in communities.
- Removing barriers to work for returning citizens helps local economies, increases public safety, and gives employers the opportunity to find valued workers. We underscored for BEA members that especially given the tight labor market, employers have an imperative to support access to job opportunities for this group of workers in order to sustain and grow their business.
- Under EEOC guidelines, employers have a responsibility to review current hiring practices and, as needed, adopt more inclusive practices as it relates to hiring and screening individuals with criminal records for available job opportunities. Guidelines and best practices exist and employers should leverage them.
- Employer practices related to onboarding new employers, support on the job, and opportunities for rapid advancement can make a huge difference in the success of a person who may be recently returning from incarceration. Our team members illuminated the many ways that employers have opened doors for them and what we are learning about how to support access to employment for people who have been justice involved and are at highest risk of gun violence in Chicago.
We see this conversation as a first step. Alongside employers we’re looking to support employers in taking tangible action steps like changes in hiring practices, onboarding, mentoring, support and recognizing and understanding triggers of trauma. Implementing these changes and integrating opportunity and dignity into businesses practices will require changing practice, policy, and recognizing and addressing implicit bias in the workplace among other things. Later this year, our teams will be identifying employers to pilot ideas to support access and onramps to opportunity for people who have been justice involved with an eye toward continuing to learn with and from employers about how practices and policies can be improved.
Since our conversation with the BEA, we have received amazing feedback from employers who are engaged, enthusiastic and curious to learn more and we look forward to continuing communication with them. This conversation is just the first step on the path to creating a society where we all, regardless of our past missteps or records, have the opportunity to obtain employment that is grounded in dignity and human rights.
If you would like to learn more about the work heartland Alliance is doing to connect employers and returning citizens, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
2018 was a big year. It was a year of unprecedented threats, unbelievable movement building and unwavering support from you, our community of dedicated advocates, friends, partners, and funders. Every report that was written, harmful legislation that was blocked and policy solution that was supported helped us get one step closer to creating a more equitable society for all. We had the opportunity to move the needle on the issues we care about most at Heartland Alliance—Housing, Health Care, Jobs, Justice, Economic Opportunity, and Safety. And we could not have done it without you.
Here is just some of the big impact you helped create with us in 2018:
By Amber Crossen, Communications Coordinator, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity
We’ve got lots of new faces around the office this summer, and we’re excited for you to get to know our new staff. While Quintin and Carrie, our Workforce Research & Policy Fellow and Graduate Student Intern, respectively, will be with us all year, Elizabeth, Damian, and Caroline will round out our team for the summer. Read on to learn all about what the National Initiatives (NI) staff is looking forward to learning and working on in the coming months.
by National Transitional Jobs Network
Effective job development—creating opportunity for subsidized employees to move into the unsubsidized labor market—is integral to the goals and successful outcomes of the Transitional Jobs (TJ) strategy. It is also one of the most challenging aspects of TJ program delivery, especially during times of high unemployment. Available research and program evaluation findings, combined with input from experts in the field, offer promising strategies to improve the success of job development efforts. The job development component is largely “demand driven”—focused on the needs and expectations of employers in the competitive labor market, yet success in placing participants in unsubsidized jobs is equally dependent on effective job readiness training, job search preparation and retention support. For best practices in these and other elements of the TJ strategy, see the NTJN’s other program resources.
Key #1 Program Planning and Implementation
Many of the most important factors in successful job development are best considered during the planning and implementation phases of TJ programming. It is essential that from the beginning of the planning process adequate program resources, staff time and administrative attention be dedicated to designing and putting into practice a comprehensive job development component.
Provide Adequate Resources and Support for Job Development
It is often a challenge to allocate enough resources and staff time to each of the critically important core elements of the Transitional Jobs strategy, but it is absolutely necessary that adequate resources are dedicated for job
development staff to effectively cultivate employers. This means planning and budgeting for having job development professionals on staff and establishing a manageable caseload size. Evidence suggests that caseload size is directly correlated with a program’s employment impacts.
Hire the Right Employees for the Job
Successful job developers have strong skills in sales and networking, as well as industry knowledge. When possible, hiring job developers who have previous experience recruiting employers and who can bring relationships with them can strengthen the success of job development. Agencies can further support job developers’ role through providing professional development opportunities such as trainings, conferences or workshops.
Use Labor-market Information to Target Sectors that Hire Entry-level Workers that Fit Your Populations Served
It is important to know what industry sectors are hiring entry-level workers in your area in order to know what businesses to engage and to best prepare your participants to apply for those positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics
offers valuable information on employment projections and job openings at www.bls.gov. Local or regional economic development authorities also often have useful area-specific data on labor market demand for particular industries and occupations. Another great resource is O*Net Online, a large comprehensive database of job descriptions and the skills, knowledge and training necessary for each occupation: online.onetcenter.org.
Use Employer Recognized Assessment Tools to Measure and Document Work-Readiness
While assessment tools are typically used to gain an initial sense of TJ participants’ strengths, goals and challenges, they can also be used throughout the subsidized work process to help participants build soft skills and as a demonstration to potential employers of participants’ readiness to enter unsubsidized employment. These ongoing assessments can measure and document work-readiness factors such as punctuality, personal presentation, and cooperation with coworkers and supervisors. Assessments of interests and skills can also provide job development staff with information to help them match participants with positions of interest, a practice that supports sustained employee motivation.
Key #2 Employer Engagement
Successful job development is entirely dependent on your ability to identify, engage and persuade the employers that are most likely to hire candidates from your program. Promising and evidence-based strategies for engaging employers and getting them to hire your candidates include:
Take a “Dual-Customer” Approach
Significant attention should be given to cultivating employer relationships with an understanding of the needs of potential employers. Developing an in-depth understanding of an employer’s needs, values, and available positions through asking questions, listening carefully and then demonstrating understanding by matching the employer with employees whose goals, interests and aptitudes are a good match with employer needs is critical for building relationships with employers. Attending to both employer and employee needs supports the creation of long-term employer partnerships as well as placements that serve the needs of both parties.
Target the Right Employers
Small and medium-sized employers and locally-owned companies may find more value and benefit from the additional supports and financial incentives provided by hiring TJ participants. They may also have fewer hiring restrictions and less bureaucracy, and be more likely to recognize and value the community benefit and social purpose of hiring TJ participants.
Effectively Engage and Network to Develop Long-Term Employer Relationships
Networking with current and potential employers, as well as partnership businesses, allows job developers to create long-term employer partners.5 6 Effective networking and engagement strategies include:
- Join and participate in organizations that allow access and interaction with local employers such as, local Chambers of Commerce, Rotary, or trade associations.
- Attend local job fairs to explain to employers what you can provide to them with regard to candidates and services and liberally distribute business cards, brochures and fliers that detail job developer name and contact information, services provided, as well as other business references who have used job developer’s services in employing TJ participants.
- Research potential employers ahead of time, including job descriptions and postings, to learn what skills are important for their employees to have. This will allow you to approach employers with a prepared plan for contact.
- Become comfortable making the ‘business case’ to employers (see ‘Make the Business Case’ for TJ to Employers below).
- Educate potential employers about realistic challenges and benefits of hiring TJ participants.
- Use constructive language when explaining services, such as describing employees who experienced “challenges” instead of “barriers.” “We’ll be in touch with you regularly to see how you’re doing,” may resound with potential employees rather than social service language, “We provide follow up services”.
- Keep track of when to follow-up with employers and the next steps.
Make the “Business Case” for TJ to Employers
There are inherent advantages for employers who hire an employee from a TJ program, but employers may need to be informed of these advantages.
- Recent work experience: TJ participants have a recent, proven track record of success in the workplace, gained through their transitional employment. TJ providers serve as a reliable recent employer reference for potential unsubsidized employers.
- Tax incentives: Employers are eligible for payroll tax credits as well as business credits for newly hired individuals under the extended Work Opportunity Tax Credit as well as under the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act of 2010. Under the HIRE act, employers may qualify for a 6.2% payroll tax incentive and may claim a business credit on individual employees up to $1000 when filing 2011 income tax returns.10
- Human resources services: Many TJ programs effectively provide free human resources services for employers. Examples include providing background checks, drug tests and employee records that could otherwise be costly or time-consuming for employers to obtain. Programs can explicitly offer HR services to potential employers and then follow through by demonstrating their continued willingness to communicate with both employer and employee to provide support and work through problems if they should arise.
- Federal Bonding: The Federal Bonding Program offers fidelity bonding for “at-risk” employees, including people with criminal records, at no cost to the employer. Fidelity bonding protects employers against theft, forgery, larceny, and embezzlement. For more information see www.bonds4jobs.com.
- Soft-skills training: Entry-level employers express a need for and value of employees with soft skills, and TJ programs provide participants with soft skills job readiness training.12 Employers can then benefit from hiring an employee from a TJ program who has recently completed job-readiness that includes the desired soft skills—showing up consistently and on time, cooperating with coworkers and supervisors, demonstrating a positive attitude, etc.
- Sector-based hard-skills training: Hard skills training is also a valuable component of some TJ programs which offer sector-specific work experience and training that can be valuable to employers in that sector or related sectors. “Green jobs” is a job growth sector that many TJ programs have trained participants specially for, thus making them an asset to a potential green jobs employer.
- Ongoing retention services: TJ programs that offer evidence-based retention services provide potential employers with an opportunity to decrease turn-over costs because they positively affect long-term employment retention. With an average national turnover rate 2009 of around 16%, employee turnover— especially among entry-level workers–represents substantial costs to employers. Candidates that receive six months or more of retention support, at no cost to the employer, may be more attractive than other entry-level candidates with no access to such services.
Key #3 Continually Evaluate Job Development Success
Establishing a network of employers partially depends on a job developer’s ability to demonstrate effective employer to employee matching – which is ultimately a reciprocal benefit to employers and participants. One indicator of this, used by certain programs, is a comparison between the number of TJ participants interviewed by an employer and the number of those people who actually are hired by the employer. Another indicator with which to evaluate job development success is the occurrence of repeat business contact with employers. Regardless of the indicators used to track and evaluate these efforts, it is important that programs consistently use the same indicators to track and evaluate job development efforts overtime to measure success and make program and staff improvements.
To get more information, request technical assistance, or share your successful strategies for job development, please contact Chris Warland at email@example.com
The Transitional Jobs Reentry Demonstration (TJRD), developed by the Joyce Foundation and conducted by MDRC with research partners, is a random assignment study of Transitional Jobs programs in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and St. Paul that serve people reentering their communities from prison.
Newly released year one findings provide valuable lessons for helping our growing TJ field set its course for this new decade of work. A new brief by the NTJN, Advancing the Field of Transitional Jobs, includes a summary of findings, lessons learned, and strategies for moving the TJ field forward.
Key findings include confirmation that people reentering communities from prison want to work as shown by high TJ participation rates; encouraging evidence suggesting that retention bonuses may positively affect job retention; large increases in employment attributable to TJ participation which faded over time; and ethnographic documentation that TJ provides a period of income and stability in the otherwise chaotic time following prison release. The National Transitional Jobs Network has issued a brief, Advancing the Field of Transitional Jobs, describing the key lessons learned and ideas for advancing the field of Transitional Jobs. More information on TJRD study is also available from MDRC and The Joyce Foundation.
This site has been set up as a venue for Transitional Jobs providers and other stakeholders to discuss their reactions to the TJRD findings and discuss the implications of this study for their programs. Most importantly, this is an opportunity to share with other practitioners how your program is innovating and evolving to enhance the TJ model and better serve your participants—what is working for you? (To comment, please click on number on right-side of this post).