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Mary Mazzoni headshot

New Roadmap Aims to Drive Second Chance Hiring in the U.S.

By Mary Mazzoni
man drives forklift in warehouse - second chance hiring

The Manufacturing Institute — the workforce development and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers — is among the groups pursuing second chance hiring by looking to help manufacturers recruit people with criminal justice histories to fill some of the thousands of job openings within the industry. 

(Image courtesy of the Manufacturing Institute

Millions of people across the U.S. are locked out of stable employment due to past involvement with the criminal justice system. After decades of mass incarceration, around 1 in 3 U.S. adults now has a criminal record that would appear on a routine background screening. Particularly as industries across the country face labor shortages, employers are taking a renewed interest in second chance hiring as a way to stay staffed — and the trend offers life-changing potential for those who have served their time and are looking to re-enter the workforce. 

Second chance hiring aims to challenge the stigma of criminal justice involvement and bring more people with records into the ranks of businesses large and small. More than filling a vacant position, employers see real benefits when they take a chance on these individuals. More 80 percent of business leaders and 85 percent of hiring mangers say employees with criminal justice histories perform just as well or better in their jobs compared to those without. 

Still, many business leaders say they face barriers that make it more difficult for them to hire people with certain or any criminal justice involvement. The Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ), an international nonprofit that works with companies to champion criminal justice reform, published research that explores these challenges further and sets out a roadmap for employers to further embrace second chance hiring. 

The report is based on dozens of conversations with companies across industries, including financial services, insurance, manufacturing, service providers and restaurants, as well as academics and nonprofits. 

“Businesses are open to implementing second chance hiring programs, yet many don’t," Ashley Furst, senior program manager for employment opportunities at RBIJ and lead author of the report, told TriplePundit. "I spoke to those who aren’t about what has deterred them from the process, and those who are actively hiring from this population about best practices to ensure both businesses and their new hires are successful.”

A roadmap for second chance hiring

Through the course of her interviews with employers, Furst identified three main reasons why businesses do not engage in second chance hiring. For starters, some employers say they are unable to identify justice-impacted candidates. Some also say prospective candidates may lack necessary skills, such as digital literacy. This makes logical sense: Those locked up are most likely to be poor and may have lacked access to digital tools before their incarceration, and those who served longer sentences re-emerge into a world that has changed quickly due to technology advancements. Further, some employers struggle with cumbersome internal processes or regulatory barriers. 

In response, RBIJ's roadmap recommends three central "pillars" to drive second chance hiring across the workforce: 

  • Employer education on the business and human case for second chance hiring, as well as the unique challenges faced by people who are looking to restart their lives after being released from jail or prison 
  • Identifying community-based organizations and re-entry partners to help businesses develop successful second chance programs and support hires with criminal justice histories 
  • Workforce development and training opportunities for returning employees that open up pathways for employment and upward career mobility

“There have been numerous reports that have shown how beneficial it can be for a business to start second chance hiring, but what we found time and again was that employers were at a loss for where to start," said Furst, who is herself justice-impacted. "This roadmap can serve as a guide for businesses who are looking to hire justice-involved individuals, to ensure the most effective relationship for both the employer and the employee.”

How employer education powers second chance hiring

The first pillar, employer education, revolves around understanding the unique challenges returning citizens face, as well as building awareness within companies about what second chance hiring is, how to do it and why it matters. 

Furst and the RBIJ recommend employers get started by reviewing and updating their hiring policies, identifying partners and markets that can help them build a second chance candidate pipeline, and clearly communicating the business case and company commitment to second chance hiring internally. 

"Where most efforts to accelerate [second chance hiring (SCH)] programs get stuck is in between 'not doing it at all' to 'doing it really well,'" Furst wrote in the report. "A consequence of this perception is that SCH programs may stop soon after they start."

Most often, the employers that are most successful are those who start small, seek guidance from other employers and partners, and build their programs up over time, Furst found. See Page 7 of the roadmap for further guidance on employer education. 

Identifying the right partners 

When it comes to corporate action on social issues, building a network of partners that understand the needs of people and communities is crucial. As Emerald-Jane "EJ" Hunter, founder of the inclusion-focused integrated marketing firm myWHY Agency, told TriplePundit earlier this year: "If you had known better, you would’ve done better," and connecting with those who can help to build your understanding is and essential step to getting started. 

Furst and the RBIJ recommend employers seek out community-based organizations and partners specifically focused on re-entry after incarceration in order to build their second chance hiring programs and meet the needs of employees with records. 

"Second chance employees may have additional needs that should be addressed with accommodations, manager training, and/or cultural sensitivity training," Furst wrote in the report. "Individuals with criminal records, particularly those who have been recently released from prison and have limited work experience outside of the institution, will require a range of supportive services that most employers will not have the expertise or resources to provide." 

Community-based partners can help to provide those services and ensure second chance hiring is successful, she found. See page 10 of the roadmap for guidance on identifying and engaging with the right partners in your community. 

Meeting employee needs with workforce development

Some people with criminal justice histories have work experience, degrees and certifications, but many are limited in these areas. Rather than passing over them or relegating them to entry-level positions, employers can help them skill up — benefiting the company and the employee, as well as communities and the broader economy. 

"With proper access to upskilling and workforce development opportunities, second chance talent could fill a tremendous number of open roles and address the labor shortage that businesses across the country continue to face," Furst found. 

See Page 13 of the roadmap for guidance on how employers can find and attract second chance employees and help them succeed in their careers. 

The bottom line: Second chance hiring is good for people, employers and the economy

Second chance hiring may be a change for some employers, but it's well worth the effort. As companies look to fill nearly 10 million job openings, this long-overlooked population is ready, willing and able to fill the gap — if they can get the support they need to succeed. Taking a chance on them benefits employers, helps to strengthen communities, and changes lives for people and families impacted by the criminal justice system, RBIJ found. 

“I spoke with employers from across the country and across sectors, and it’s clear what businesses can do to be successful in becoming a second chance employer," Furst told us. "By understanding the unique needs of justice-involved workers, working with community-based organization partners to address those needs, and providing opportunities for advancement within your organization, employers can create meaningful second chances and strengthen the economy in the process.”

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni