Category Archives: jobs

Another employer who gets it…

I’m caught up with other projects this week, but would be remiss in not posting this story about Eric Smith, a carpenter in St. Paul, Minnesota who has no qualms about hiring people with criminal records.  Why?  It’s been his experience that if a  person is hardworking and good at what he does, his background has no relevance to the job. Smith says:

I tend to hire people I like personally — no indicator of talent, but I have to spend a lot of time with them. I’ve discovered over the years that I’m drawn to people who have a little bit of darkness in them — people who have peeked over the edge, maybe even gone over it, at some point in their lives.

People with this kind of background are not uncommon in remodeling, probably because it’s one of the dwindling number of mentally challenging careers that require almost nothing in the way of qualifications except a strong back, common sense and a willingness to work hard.

For people who’ve been unable to fit into standardized corporate slots, or haven’t passed the tests or graduated at the top of their class, construction can offer a rare second or third chance.

I love the wisdom in this.  You can read the whole story here:  The Healing Power of Construction Work



Filed under companies hiring ex-offenders, criminal records, employers hiring ex-offenders, employment ex-offenders, hope for ex-offenders, inspiration, job search ex-offenders, jobs, jobs ex-offenders, second chances, skills, starting over

A problem too big to ignore: U.S as a land of “selective” opportunity

Class issues have been very much on my mind this week.  So you’ll have to forgive me if I carry on a bit here  about the yawning gap in the U.S between the haves and the  have-nots. 

I just finished watching the  HBO documentary, “Homeless,” about the families who live in the motels around Disneyland in Anaheim, California because they can’t afford a real home.  As a newspaper reporter  covering Disneyland in the early 1990s, I was well acquainted with  these seedy motels just footsteps from “The Happiest Place on Earth.”  But I had no idea the extent to which they’ve become the last resort for so many really young  kids and their parents.  The documentary, which was produced by Alexandra Pelosi, was heart-wrenching as it illuminated the lives of these children crammed in single rooms with their families and  playing in parking lots and alleyways rife with drug addiction and gang violence.  The kids even go to a special school, Hope School, that runs all year so that they can get regular meals and be kept off the streets.  Watching it, I kept thinking of  how I’d been less shocked to see poor kids in third world countries, than in a rich country like the U.S., where everyone is supposed to have a chance.

And yes, Ms. Pelosi is the daughter of the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.  But regardless of your politics, this program is eye-opening.   What was most jarring to me was that most of these people were working full-time if not overtime ( though often minimum wage jobs at places like Target, Wal-Mart and even nearby Disney), yet they still couldn’t afford to rent a house in Orange County.

The majority of people Pelosi interviewed were also white, which made me think of a great piece I read recently in the Wall Street Journal that argued how affirmative action had failed America because it’s not helping the folks who really need it.  It was written by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), who has also gone out on a limb backing prison reform.  For my money, there are few legislators who have a better fix on the problems ailing the U.S. – or more courage in confronting them – than Webb.   He asserts that as affirmative action has been expanded to include all people of color and other protected groups, it has shortchanged the African-Americans it was designed to help.  And that’s not all.  As Webb writes:

Those who came to this country in recent decades from Asia, Latin America and Africa did not suffer discrimination from our government, and in fact have frequently been the beneficiaries of special government programs. The same cannot be said of many hard-working white Americans, including those whose roots in America go back more than 200 years.

The fact that Webb’s editorial has more than 1,000 commenters, many in support of what he says, suggests that a lot of us are seeing the disconnect.    In essence it’s not about race or ethnicity — it’s about economic and social disadvantage.  Americans who fall or are falling into the lower class are the ones most in need of assistance. 

This is also highlighted in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” which I recently picked up when I saw an 11-year-old boy reading it at the pool.  (I’m assuming for the chapter on what it takes to succeed in sports, since he’s typically carrying a football.)   In the book, Gladwell basically skewers the Horatio Alger myth of the self-made man, by illustrating many of the extraordinary advantages our up-by-their-bootstraps heros have actually had.   He also cites class in explaining why being a genius doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a success, pointing out that there are certain things well-off parents teach their children about making their way that children from poorer families often  don’t know. 

Any way you look at it, it’s a tough problem.  Readers, what are your thoughts?

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Filed under class issues, homelessness, jobs, UVA Lacrosse, wages

Employers, what will it take to get you to hire ex-offenders?

The federal agency that supervises offenders on probation and parole in Washington, DC  isn’t going to tiptoe around this question anymore.  Instead, at a time when a bad economy has made finding a job with a record even more difficult, officials at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency have started flat-out asking employers whether they’d consider bringing a former offender on board, and if not what might be done to change their mind.

It’s all part of a new media campaign designed to bring awareness to the fact that not everyone with a criminal record is the same.  On any given day, the CSOSA’s Community Supervision Program is actively responsible for more than 16,000 offenders, many of whom are alcohol and drug-free, skilled, employment- ready and have put their past behaviors well behind them, says Leonard Sipes, the agency’s senior public affairs specialist.  Yet, only about 53 percent of those individuals are currently working — a statistic CSOSA aims to improve by confronting the issue head on.

” There’s a certain point where you’re not going to make an omelet unless you  scramble some eggs,”  Snipes said.  “So we decided to take a risk.    What do we have to lose by trying and giving businesses a voice? Sure, some will be harsh and negative, some will stereotype – but if  we don’t engage in this conversation things will stay the same.  Hopefully by doing this we’ll  open the doors for one person to get hired and then maybe for two more the next time and build from there.”

The CSOSA will run video and radio interviews with employers on  its website and YouTube.   While some employers have been encouraging,  many  have told Sipes that they simply don’t want to hire ex-offenders because they’re worried about having to deal with trouble.  “They want ironclad guarantees that the person will show up and do the job without creating problems,” he says.

Often, the companies want CSOSA to stay involved with the individual, so its caseworkers can help handle any situations that might arise.  Typically, the agency will refer only the most employment ready, mature and reliable individuals in order to avoid such problems, but they are willing to work with the employer to help ensure things go smoothly.  It’s in everyone’s interest, Sipes says, since studies show getting offenders back to work reduces recidivism and improves  public safety.  Employers who hire ex-cons can also take advantage of incentives, including  tax credits and federal bonding.

What can ex-offenders do to improve their chances?  Feedback to CSOSA so far indicates most employers are simply looking for someone with a good attitude.  Skills aren’t always as important, as they will often teach the right person, Sipes notes.  “If you  present well and  can say, ‘ I’m going to be here every day and I’m going to be a benefit to your company and all I need is an opportunity,’ —  a lot of people caught up in the criminal justice system have a hard time expressing that, but that’s what employers want to hear.”

It will be interesting to see what bringing this conversation to the surface will do.  Readers, how about you?  If you know companies that hire or don’t hire ex-offenders, what are their reasons?  Do you think more employers can be convinced to give former felons a second chance?


Filed under background checks, bonding ex-offenders, companies hiring ex-offenders, criminal records, employer incentives ex-offenders, hope for ex-offenders, job search ex-offenders, jobs, jobs ex-offenders, recession ex-offenders, reentry, reentry resources, second chances, starting over, Uncategorized

Bouncing back from life’s winters….

Who would have thought that this ….

Could become this…..

In fact, our rose bush was completely buried before the winter was over.  We’re talking a huge icy white mound the kids liked to climb.  The snow covering it — actually, holding it down — was the last snow to melt on our street.   When it did the bush was completely flattened.  

 Just two weeks ago, our roses still weren’t blooming like others in the neighborhood.  Whole sections of the bush  had died and their branches were threatening to strangle the living parts.  So my husband and I cut out the dead wood — a tedious and at times painful process with thorns ripping through our gloves, tearing at our skin.   We cut so much of it, we were afraid it might not survive.

Now our rose bush looks better than it did in any Spring we can remember.

That’s the amazing thing about nature.   Its capacity for rebirth.  We’ve all got it.  No matter how dark or cold or bleak our winters.

So don’t give up on your own potential for transformation.

Even if there’s work to be done.  It’s in you.


Filed under ex-offender psychology, hope for ex-offenders, inspiration, jobs, reentry, second chances, starting over

More jobs to say goodbye to…

The New York Times has a good  article on jobs that won’t be coming back even after the recession is over.  It tells the story of Cynthia Norton , a 52-year-old former administrative assistant who hasn’t been able to get a similar position since she was laid off two years ago — this despite sending out more than 100 resumes. Instead, she’s been working at Walmart for a third of her former salary.

The writer’s point  is that Norton’s difficulties have less to do with the bad economy than the fact that, as I’ve noted before, many clerical and other jobs — travel agents, manufacturing, data entry –are being eliminated because they can be easily automated or done overseas.

The story goes  right to the  heart of  what many ex-offenders must deal with as more  lower-skilled but decent paying jobs disappear.  What I don’t get is why the  Obama administration continues to  downplay the permanent loss of these  jobs due to structural changes in the economy.

As I often tell my students,  certain doors are going to be closed to you, and it’s better to  know that at the outset.  Individuals who were sentenced for drug offenses aren’t going to get jobs in medical offices.   If you stole money from your last employer, you’re unlikely to be hired as an accountant.  Petty larceny?  You can probably forget the job as a bank teller.

So why can’t the government be as straight with us?  After all, their own statistics support declines in certain occupations and even spell out the reasons why.  And it isn’t just low-skilled jobs, either.   Take computer programming.  Many people believe  having a background in information technology (IT) is a golden ticket.  But it really depends where your expertise is.  And right now the demand for computer programmers isn’t exactly growing.  In fact, since peaking in 1999,  the number of computer programming jobs in the U.S. has actually declined by nearly a third –529,000 to 394,000.   Current projections see the number of positions going down  by 3 percent  through 2018.

What gives?   In part the fall-off  is due to advances in programming languages and tools, as well as the growing ability of users to write their own programs.  In addition, these jobs are very easy to outsource to places like India where programmers are a good deal cheaper.  Instead, the demand has moved to software  engineers, who design and develop software for users and systems.  The number of these positions is expected to increase by as much as 32  percent between 2008 and 2019.

The takeaway here: Be prepared for the fact that not being able to get a job may have less to do with you and your record, than the fact that certain jobs are disappearing and/or morphing into something else.  These days everyone is having to learn something new — so don’t feel bad if you need to update your skills.  Fortunately, the government is also putting a lot of money into retraining, so you may qualify.

But before you set your heart on a certain job or career, do your research.  Talk to real people.   You may be surprised.  When I was over at my local  Career One Stop Center recently, manager Trang Montgomery told me that despite declines in many manufacturing jobs, there were areas where there  were going to be shortages.   Welding, for example.  Yes, apparently this is an specialty where employers are having difficulties finding skilled workers.  If this interests you, you might want to check out training and apprenticeship opportunities.

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Filed under economy, job search ex-offenders, job training, jobs, recession ex-offenders, skills, unemployment