Hiring Spotlight: Second Chance Workers
Like most businesses, you’re probably navigating the most challenging labor market and hiring season in recent history.
As consumers put down their masks一and pick up where they left off in pre-pandemic spending一there simply aren’t enough interested workers to fill your growing needs.
Although a complicated set of issues contributes to this labor shortage, we know for sure that entire groups of qualified candidates are being overlooked. In this, the first in our series on hidden workers, we’ll spotlight one group of untapped talent that could be a critical part of your hiring solution: second chance workers
Why take the chance? Why consider non-violent criminal offenders?
First, as touched on above, it’s no secret that we’re in the middle of a nationwide hiring crisis. Today there are nearly 11 million open jobs, yet less than 6 million workers looking to fill them. The odds are not stacked in your favor (which in and of itself should be reason enough to look beyond your traditional pool of candidates).
But more importantly, history has shown that non-violent criminal offenders are among the best, most engaged, and most passionate workers.
Why? Perhaps one reason is hard work and persistence. It’s a significant challenge to overcome as many obstacles as they face一both before the offense and after, as we’ll discuss below. To get into a position where they can once again contribute shows real determination. This perseverance alone sets many with a criminal background apart from “traditional” candidates.
In his book Untapped Talent, How Second Chance Hiring Works For Your Business And The Community, author Jeffrey Korzenik touts the virtues of “candidates who have “grit” and “heart” to rebuild their lives.” However, he also emphasizes, “It’s business, not charity…but isn’t it great when good business accomplishes so much?”
A case in point was seen during the early stages of COVID, as untold workers quit their jobs as a precautionary measure against infection. But as Jeffrey Brown, CEO of Brown’s Super Stores (and a proponent of second chance hiring) notes, this wasn’t the case for a majority of previous offenders. “They’re accustomed to challenges that others are not, and they are prepared to manage through risk.”
Research backs up this sentiment. A 2020 Harvard Business School study reported on the second chance hiring of Nehemiah Manufacturing, a company with 130 of its 180 having a criminal background. According to estimates by CEO Dan Meyer, Nehemiah increased its cash flow by over 5% thanks to lower turnover and lower recruiting expenses, as well as higher engagement and higher productivity. Similarly, an American Civil Liberties Union report found that at the 7,000+ employee Total Wine & More, their turnover rate was 12% lower for criminal hires.
Also, in many instances, there are significant tax advantages to hiring non-violent criminals. This includes, among others, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit which offers a tax credit of between 25-40% on the worker’s wages. There is funding available through the federal government’s Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act too, as well as the Federal Bonding Program that offers no-cost bonds to cover at-risk workers.
There’s also a case to be made for the marketing advantages of hiring non-violent criminal offenders. Returning to the story of Brown’s Super Stores, CEO Jeffrey Brown points out that with stores in urban areas, they’re proud to let customers know that over 600 of their 2,500 employees have a criminal past. He explains that this is a positive attribute for customers who understand the struggles people go through, and that it helps build a tighter relationship with the community. Other companies agree, as several businesses large and small successfully promote their second-chance hiring on their packaging and other marketing materials.
And finally, although less inspiring from an altruistic standpoint, the truth is that purposefully passing on those with criminal histories is at best unethical, and often illegal. Nor is it a best practice for staffing the best team during today's challenging labor market.
So, who deserves a second chance?
That’s the question many businesses ask.
Obviously, there’s no single answer, as every business is unique. Some may not legally be able to hire non-violent criminal offenders for regulatory reasons. But for others, the decision not to make second-chance hires may be out of fear of theft or other crimes, worries about legal liability, or concerns over the disruption of company culture.
But as RAND Corporation’s Senior Policy Researcher Shawn Bushway points out, when discussing a recent study they conducted on the topic, “Most employers believe that people with criminal histories will commit offenses again. But this is not the case. Employers need to adopt a more nuanced approach to the issue.”
This “nuanced” approach that Bushway suggests comes down to deciding what’s right for you. It’s a decision you’ll have to make as a team, considering your specific situation.
For instance, if you’re considering a candidate who has a conviction for a driving offense, and you’re not using that person in a position with a vehicle, it could be a good fit. Similarly, there could be a candidate who was convicted of a drug violation in a state where that drug is no longer illegal. Perhaps the candidate was convicted of carrying a weapon while in the street drug trade? This is common practice for protection, but it’s possible that the person never had any intention of using the weapon. Just ask, then consider what’s right for you.
But keep in mind the sage advice of Lucius Couloute, Policy Analyst at The Prison Policy Initiative:“It takes employers who are willing to let go of their biases in pursuit not only of equality but of the best candidates.”
This sentiment is echoed in the hiring practices of Oregan-based bakery Dave’s Killer Bread. They not only hire second chance workers, but they’ve also created a Second Chance Foundation to inform and educated other businesses, and to help them become second chance employers.
Their philosophy? “We believe in Second Chance Employment: hiring the best person for the job, regardless of criminal history. We have witnessed its transformative power, and that giving someone ready to change their lives a chance – a Second Chance - gives people an opportunity not only to make a living, but to make a life.”
A bad rap? You be the judge.
It’s estimated that there are 19 million convicted felons in the US today.
This means right now, you’re probably working side-by-side with someone who has a criminal record. You just don’t know it.
A vast majority of this criminal activity is a case of “youthful mistakes,” often causes by lapses in judgment fueled by “one too many.” Most of these people made a mistake early, learned their lesson, swept the crime under the rug thanks to good legal advice, and went on to become law-abiding and productive workers.
For others, however, the lingering effects of a criminal offense stick with them much longer.
Let’s take a moment to understand non-violent offenders. How do they get into this situation?
The hard truth about today’s criminal activity.
First, let’s look at the environment and background of today’s inner-city.
While this series on hidden workers doesn’t profess to be a lesson in sociology, there is pretty convincing evidence to suggest that many people in the criminal justice system come from less than ideal environments.
As renowned American sociologist William Julius Wilson discusses in his book The Truly Disadvantaged, poverty, poor role models, lack of support from economic institutions, and many other factors often put inner-city people on a bad path in life. This can lead people to navigate neighborhood conflicts for themselves, especially when police are unable to provide adequate support or protection. It also encourages people to turn to the underground economy. Both of these factors can heavily influence people and steer them towards criminal activity.
Ultimately, these factors contribute directly to people having lower education levels and living in extreme poverty. They can’t afford computers, don’t have bank accounts, and have large gaps in their work histories. All making it difficult to earn jobs in today’s hiring market.
The internet is partly to blame as well. Criminal data is a tangible statistic that search engines are quick to focus on, zeroing in on convictions and surfacing them to the top of search results. But “rehabilitation” statistics are not so easily surfaced. Despite someone committing a crime many years ago, and becoming rehabilitated, that data is less likely to find the sweet spot of the Google algorithm (not to blame Google specifically, as it’s a problem across the web…plus, Google has a long history of hiring non-violent criminal offenders).
Bottom line, many who end up in the criminal justice system have faced difficult situations. In the words of Fred Keller, Founder and Chairman of the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Cascade Engineering, “I don’t like the term second chance, because most of these people never had a first chance.”
So what are the numbers?
Taking a broad brushstroke, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there are nearly 1 million unemployed men between the ages of 24-35. Among these 1 million men, a RAND Corporation study shows that 64% have been arrested and 46% have been convicted of a crime.
Needless to say, these numbers reveal that there are a lot of workers with a criminal record who can fill your open positions and help make you more successful.
As noted above, these second-chance candidates can become passionate and productive employees who stick around. Want more evidence? Electronic Recycle reduced its turnover rate by 50% when it began hiring criminals. Similarly, the Second Chance Business Coalition reports that 85% of HR teams report that individuals with criminal records perform the same as, or better than, employees without criminal records.
Many large and successful companies agree. Among those hiring non-violent criminal offenders are McDonald’s, Delta Airlines, Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, and General Mills.
How can you improve your hiring process?
First, get your team in the right mindset. From the board room to the break room, let people know that second chance hires are a positive addition to your workforce. The Society of Human Resource Management offers thought-provoking conversation cards that help you jointly discuss issues related to hiring criminals.
Next, simplify your hiring process to remove steps, particularly disqualification steps (there is a national “Ban the Box” movement to remove the question about a previous criminal offense). At the Body Shop’s North Carolina distribution center, they recently reduced their application to three questions: 1. Are you authorized to work? 2. Can you stand for 8 hours? 3. Can you lift 50 pounds? The results were so successful they’re now expanding the reduced application process to other regions.
Another best practice is one adopted by the team here at Snagajob. We never request a background check until after a conditional offer of employment has been extended. This helps ensure you’re basing decisions solely on merit, not bias.
How can you find non-violent criminal offenders to hire?
A good place to start is to ask for referrals, both within your company and from customers, vendors, friends, and others.
You can also reach out to local or national non-profit organizations, as well as the criminal justice system (and local prisons that have labor programs). Local churches are a possibility. Another good option is the federally-funded CareerOneStop, which lets you search for a worker with a criminal conviction.
While there’s no rule set in stone, depending on each employer’s situation, it may be extremely valuable to hire non-violent criminal offenders. This is particularly true of small companies with growth needs, that can’t fill open positions.
But any business, of any size, is certainly ripe to benefit from this untapped and deserving labor pool. As mentioned above, if you want to learn more about this topic, consider reading the book Untapped Talent by Jeff Korzenik. You’ll learn how these deserving individuals can help you meet your hiring goals.