The Business Case For Second-Chance Hiring

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Hiring from the justice-impacted community is a way to add valuable perspectives—and find some of the most loyal and hard-working talent out there.

If there is one thing the pandemic has taught me, it’s that “business as usual” no longer exists. Between navigating the many changes brought on by the pandemic to the current challenges of the Great Resignation, leaders in every industry are left asking “where do we go from here?”

According to the Labor Department, a record 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in September. This was preceded by the 4.3 million workers who exited their jobs in August. With pandemic restrictions easing, wages rising to meet demand, and plenty of open positions, this trend will continue well into this new year. Job seekers are empowered to leave jobs they don’t want to pursue opportunities they do, leaving many organizations wondering how to fill those open roles.

This prompts two important questions that leaders must now answer:

• How do I make my organization a desirable place to work?

• How can we attract and retain great talent?

The answer to the first question will vary from one organization to another. However, one concept that can be applied to any company is improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). Building an inclusive workplace where people feel welcome and valued, and where they can meaningfully contribute to the company culture should be a goal for every leadership team. It is one of the best ways to attract and retain employees long-term.

The second question also has many possible answers. There are various ways to go about bringing in incredible talent, but I’d like to offer an option many have not considered: second-chance hiring.

Second-Chance Facts and Stats

Second-chance hiring refers to the practice of hiring individuals who have a criminal record. About one in three Americans has a felony conviction. That’s 70-100 million people with varying backgrounds, abilities, and valuable skillsets that businesses can no longer afford to overlook.

The current unemployment rate for the entire United States is 4.6 percent, but the rate is much higher for workers impacted by incarceration. According to the Prison Policy Institute, unemployment was at a rate of 27 percent for individuals impacted by incarceration before the pandemic. It’s been worsening since the pandemic hit.

For those impacted by incarceration, it can be difficult to secure employment. Many companies ask about a criminal record on applications or during interviews, and it’s impossible for these individuals to pass a background check if one is required. Despite Ban the Box laws in 37 states that require employers to remove criminal-history questions from employment applications, justice-impacted individuals continue to find themselves without jobs. With so many opportunities available, now is the time for leaders to reevaluate their hiring practices.

The Business Case for Second Chances

Over the past two years, DE&I initiatives have shot toward the top of many companies’ priority lists, and 76% of job-seekers and employees said that they consider the diversity of the workforce when evaluating job offers. While DE&I is typically focused on factors like gender, race, disability status, military service and the LGBTQIA+ communities, inclusion must go a step further to include those with a criminal background as well. The goal of a strong DE&I program is to ensure that all employees have a seat at the table and a fair chance at success within your organization. Workers impacted by incarceration can’t have a seat at the table if they can’t even get into the room.

There is an incredible amount of untapped talent and potential among those impacted by incarceration. With both DE&I objectives and the multitude of roles that have opened because of the Great Resignation, it’s smart business to consider these individuals when hiring.

The manufacturing industry is helping to lead the way. Employers in that sector are expanding second-chance hiring opportunities, proving how mutually beneficial those opportunities can be for both justice-impacted employees and the businesses that hire them.

What’s more, a study using data from the U.S. military suggested that individuals with lower social class origins are less self-centered, which sets them up to be more effective as leaders. And people from lower classes tend to have more empathy and treat people more equitably than those from privileged backgrounds. Hiring talent from the justice-impacted community is a way for companies to add valuable perspectives and to better position themselves for future success.

it’s About More Than Social Good

The silver lining of the Great Resignation is that this disruption has given businesses a reason to innovate and expand hiring practices. This is the time for leaders to explore new avenues for bringing in qualified talent. The benefits of second-chance hiring go beyond just social good. It also makes great business sense. With such an upheaval in the job market, tapping into a pool of overlooked talent can be advantageous to your organization.

As the CEO of a company that employs people impacted by incarceration, I see the transformative power of second-chance hiring every day. Both our inbound and outbound engagement centers are staffed by some of the most loyal, talented, intelligent people I have ever met. I can tell you with certainty that when you purposely exclude this population, you’re missing out on great talent. The positive outcomes we achieve can be replicated, but that requires employers to change their policies along with their mindset.

If you’re not sure where to start, engage with your community and organizations that focus on workforce development for reentry and second-chance talent. In return, you may find some of your most dedicated and motivated new employees.


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