Can a Strategy of “Second Chance” Hiring Solve the Talent Crisis?
In today's evolving job market, many organizations struggle to fill roles that may be considered "less desirable" yet have a significant impact on the customer or patient experience. Some of our previous posts here on the Perceptyx blog have highlighted the challenges employers face in finding and retaining suitable candidates for these positions, resulting in unfilled job vacancies across various industries.
At the same time, individuals with criminal records face enormous challenges in finding employment, despite the fact that securing a job is often a condition of their parole. The result is an untapped pool of potential employees who are eager to work and contribute to society, while organizations struggle to fill open positions in a tight labor market.
In this article, I will explore the untapped potential of this substantial yet often overlooked population, examine successful programs that help reintegrate previously convicted people into the workforce and highlight recent research findings that debunk prevalent misconceptions about these individuals. Throughout this discussion, I’ll emphasize its connection with organizational DEIB and People strategies, demonstrating its relevance to fostering a more inclusive and equitable workplace.
Second Chance Month: An Opportunity to Reconsider a Pool of Potential Talent
Given that April is recognized as "Second Chance Month," there’s no better time than the present to explore how providing opportunities for individuals with criminal records can be mutually beneficial for both these individuals and the organizations that employ them. Second Chance Month aims to reaffirm the importance of helping formerly incarcerated people reenter society and emphasizes the need for rehabilitation, redemption, and addressing the root causes of crime. By supporting those who are committed to rectifying their past behavior and making meaningful contributions to society, we can help reduce recidivism and build safer communities.
Every year, more than 650,000 people are released from state and federal prisons in the United States, and more than 70 million Americans have a criminal record. That reality creates significant barriers to employment, economic stability, and successful reintegration into society for this large pool of potential workers. Thousands of legal and regulatory restrictions prevent these individuals from accessing opportunities such as employment, housing, voting, education, and business licensing. As a result, nearly 75 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals are still unemployed one year after being released.
The Biden administration has recognized that making the criminal and juvenile justice systems more equitable, just, and effective requires a holistic approach. This includes eliminating excessively long sentences and mandatory minimums, providing quality job training and educational opportunities during incarceration, and offering support for formerly incarcerated individuals to enter the workforce, reunite with their families, find stable homes, and access healthcare. Furthermore, it entails expunging and sealing certain criminal records so that people's futures are not defined by their past.
Leveraging the Untapped Workforce: A Case Study of an Organization Providing Opportunities for Individuals with Criminal Records
In an era where organizations are increasingly focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB), some companies are taking steps to utilize the untapped potential of individuals with criminal records. While we cannot disclose the name of the organization, we can share valuable insights from one customer that is passionate about providing opportunities to this often-overlooked demographic.
Traditionally, the selection process for this organization involved screening applicants based on their background checks before knowing any further information about the candidate. Since it is illegal to ask for demographic information before making a job offer where they are located, many applicants were screened out without having a fair chance to demonstrate their qualifications. However, the company has since shifted its priorities to speed up the hiring process. Now, job offers are made contingent on a background check, enabling the organization to collect valuable information about their qualifications, character, and demographic data before the final decision is made.
The background checks conducted by this organization are specific, focusing on particular types of crimes, such as violence, drugs, or financial offenses. Safety remains a top priority, and there is a clear and systematic appeals process in place for those who fail the background check. The company's new approach has brought greater visibility to the demographics and failure rates of applicants, revealing that people not eligible based on their past are disproportionately represented by disenfranchised groups, especially Black/African American, two or more races, and Latinx individuals.
The organization's efforts to provide opportunities for people with criminal records are grounded in the idea of opportunity and the belief that it has a significant impact on the community. By offering a second chance to these individuals, the company is not only doing the right thing to address societal inequities but also resolving internal labor shortages.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, this customer observed an increase in the percentage of people who failed background checks. This trend seemed to coincide with a growing hope that organizations would be more willing to give applicants with criminal records a chance, given the labor shortages reported in the news. By adjusting its own internal hiring practices, this organization has demonstrated the potential benefits of tapping into the skills and experience of individuals with criminal records in today's tight labor market.
The Impact of the Cara Collective: Transforming Lives and Communities Through Inclusive Employment
Cara Collective, founded in 1991 by entrepreneur and philanthropist Tom Owens, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to unlocking the potential of an often-overlooked talent pool – individuals experiencing homelessness, incarceration, and poverty. Through its various programs, Cara helps participants build the skills and confidence they need to secure and maintain good jobs. The organization goes beyond being a conventional “job shop”; it aims to unlock something deeper within participants, such as self-esteem or the pursuit of a career that can disrupt generational poverty.
With 31 years of experience in the field, Cara Collective boasts impressive numbers. The organization has helped secure over 13,398 jobs since its inception, with a one-year retention rate of 66% for its permanent placements. Additionally, 79% of participants achieve permanent housing within one year. The average hourly wage for Cara participants is $16.87, and the organization has generated a social return on investment of $5.97 for every dollar donated over a five-year period.
Cara Collective's impact is not just limited to statistics; it's also evident in the personal transformations experienced by participants. Success stories include the acquisition of new skills, the reestablishment of connections with family members, and the ability to secure stable housing and gainful employment.
Believing that inclusive employment builds upon traditional DEIB efforts, Cara Collective partners with businesses, organizations, and strategic partners that aim to affect change and promote opportunities for historically overlooked talent pools. Some notable partners include Northwestern Medicine, Aon, ABM, BMO, C&W Services, CTA, Whole Foods Market, and Dave's Killer Bread. Genevieve Martin, executive director for Dave's Killer Bread Foundation, has praised Cara as the "gold standard of community organizations" that support job candidates in securing meaningful employment.
By working alongside organizations like Cara Collective, employers can play a vital role in creating a more inclusive economy and transforming the lives of individuals who have faced significant barriers to employment.
Dispelling Stereotypes: A Case for Inclusive Employment and Criminal Justice Reform
The criminal justice system in the U.S. is rife with challenges, and stereotypes surrounding individuals with criminal records often exacerbate the problems faced by people who have found themselves involved with it. By examining some key research findings and case studies, we can better understand the potential of those with prior convictions or incarceration as valuable contributors to the workforce and society.
Jerry Goodstein's 2019 paper, "Firms, Ex-offenders, and Communities: A Stakeholder Capability Enhancement Perspective" in Business Ethics Quarterly, highlights the importance of the formerly incarcerated as “critical community-based stakeholders.” Goodstein outlines pathways for expanding employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated people, enhancing their capabilities and dignity, and maintaining employer rights. These pathways emphasize the direct impact firms have on stakeholders, the positive reinforcement of mutual stakeholder capabilities, and the promotion of human dignity across multiple firm-stakeholder networks.
In their 2021 article “Targeting Intensive Job Assistance to Ex-Offenders” in Economic Inquiry, Christopher Bollinger and Aaron Yelowitz presented research showing that intensive job assistance programs can significantly reduce recidivism rates among people convicted of a non-violent crime. By providing some support and resources for the 650,000 released annually from federal and state jails and prisons, such programs can contribute to breaking the cycle of crime and unemployment that plagues many communities — only 31% of people convicted of non-violent crime who receive intensive job training were subsequently rearrested, as compared with 50% of people convicted of non-violent crime who received only standard training. America Works, an organization focused on employment for formerly incarcerated people, further emphasizes the importance of job assistance in reintegrating individuals with criminal records into society.
The US military waiver program offers a rare opportunity to evaluate the work performance of individuals with criminal records. In a 2018 study by Jennifer Hickes Lundquist, Devah Pager, and Eiko Strader that analyzed data from 1.3 million people who served in the US military from 2002 to 2009, previously convicted people showed no difference in military attrition rates due to poor performance compared to those without criminal records. In fact, previously convicted people were promoted more quickly and to higher ranks. This case study demonstrates that people with criminal records can be valuable and productive members of the workforce.
The private sector has also seen positive outcomes from hiring individuals with criminal records. Total Wine & More and Electronic Recyclers International (ERI) both reported lower employee turnover rates when recruiting employees with criminal histories. This further supports the argument that individuals with criminal records can be reliable and committed employees, deserving of a second chance.
In short, organizations looking to stand out in a tight labor market would be well served to tap the potential of individuals with criminal records. By dispelling stereotypes and addressing concerns, employers can create more inclusive and diverse environments that align with mission-critical DEI principles. Providing support and opportunities for those previously involved in the criminal justice system not only contributes to their personal growth but also helps build stronger and safer communities.
Partner with Perceptyx to Elevate Lifecycle Listening and DEIB Programming
Perceptyx offers lifecycle surveying to better understand the onboarding and offboarding experiences of employees of all backgrounds, as well as the DEIB expertise to help align organizational performance with your mission and values. Perceptyx can foster a culture of belonging by helping your organization design, implement, and analyze employee surveys that provide valuable insights and actionable recommendations for continuous improvement. To learn more, schedule a meeting with a member of our team.