Woman being interviewed for a job.
Second chance hiring initiatives can help formerly incarcerated individuals with better job opportunities. — Getty Images/fizkes

In the United States, roughly 70 million people have an arrest or conviction record, and more than 600,000 individuals are released from jail each year. “Second chance hiring” initiatives aimed at helping these individuals can offer significant opportunities for employees and employers alike. Formerly incarcerated workers are given a chance to make meaningful contributions to their communities. At the same time, businesses can meet ongoing workforce needs by tapping into a talented (and often underutilized) labor pool.

The success of this hiring movement requires the collaboration of the public and private sectors. Experts discussed best practices and strategies for implementing successful second chance hiring initiatives during an Equality of Opportunity in Action event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

[Read more: What to Know About Second Chance Hiring]

Break down barriers to obtaining and maintaining employment

Nisha Anand is the CEO of Dream Corps, an organization working to reform criminal justice and open doors of opportunity to formerly incarcerated people. Dream Corps focuses on developing and passing legislation to help remove barriers to employment post-prison.

“[For] most sentences that are given here in the United States, people do come home,” explained Anand. “We want to focus on [ensuring that] when people come home, they come home better — not bitter. They come home ready to make a difference and contribute and actually do some amazing things.”

One critical step businesses can take to support justice-impacted individuals is to break down their barriers to obtaining and maintaining employment. This could take the form of offering remote work to eliminate transportation or childcare challenges, eliminating educational or experience requirements when unnecessary for the job at hand, or getting involved in job training programs.

For businesses interested in extending second chance employment opportunities, Anand encourages them to reach out if they need help.

“There’s a complicated puzzle we’re trying to build … [and] each one of us has that puzzle piece,” Anand said. “Let’s give each other permission to reach out, name our blind spots, and help.”

Focus on upskilling for the jobs of tomorrow

Opening doors to opportunity is the first step to offering a fair chance to justice-impacted employees. The next step is to focus on upskilling employees for current and future market needs.

“The rate of change that we see technology disrupting [the] workforce is coming at us so quickly [...and] we’re going to need higher levels of skill, higher levels of education within our workforce,” explained Beth Davison, senior vice president of the Kentucky Chamber Foundation. “This population that's returning to us needs to be upskilled [...] not for the jobs we have today, but also [for] tomorrow.”

In recognition of this, Kentucky is working closely with both the Department of Corrections and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) initiative to provide the necessary training and support for the currently and formerly incarcerated.

“The National Safety Council has some great data [on how our returning citizens] are more loyal, more productive, and miss fewer days of work because they are committed to that job," Davison stressed.

[Read more: How to Develop a Growth Path for Entry-Level Employees]

Start with your business's existing policies

Though many businesses are interested in adopting second and fair chance hiring initiatives, taking the first step can seem daunting. However, companies don’t have to start from scratch, according to Genevieve Martin, executive director of Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation.

“In most cases, an employer needs to just tinker with their existing strategies and policies,” Martin said. “Very rarely does any organization need to overhaul everything, hire new people, and restructure their human resources.”

As a starting point, Martin recommends leaders look at existing policies and practices around recruiting, talent pipelines, and any employment barriers within the organization. For example, for employees whose background checks come up with a criminal record, “[it] doesn’t mean an automatic ‘no’ — it means additional consideration.”

“When we think about ‘second chance employment,’ we’re referring almost not at all to the candidate, and entirely on the employer to … get the best talent,” Martin added.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published April 26, 2022