Category Archives: recession ex-offenders

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?



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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

What would you do if you could be paid to be yourself?

“I wish I could just be paid to be myself,” a friend who’s looking for work said recently.

“Don’t we all,” I concurred, thinking, in truth, that it was kind of a strange statement, bordering on egotistical.

For some reason, though, I was still mulling it over a day later.  In fact, I was  actually starting to think she had a  point.

Why shouldn’t we all try to get paid for being ourselves, since that’s essentially what we do best anyway?  Anyone who’s  read career classics like What Color is Your Parachute? and Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow? , or their more recent successors, Do What You Are or The Purpose Driven Life knows that these books make a veritable mantra out of following your passion.

And yet, when I  ask my students to talk about their interests, or what they really love to do, they’re often a little reticent. It’s as if they believe hoping someone will actually hire you for what you do best is asking too much.

It’s gotten even worse with this economy.  So many of us feel we can’t be too picky with jobs in short supply.  It can also be difficult to square this advice with what ex-offenders are typically told.  That is, to take a job, any job, just to get work, since finding employment has been proven to reduce recidivism.

But I don’t think anyone should give up on the dream of being hired to use their best skills.  Letting your gifts go to waste isn’t good for the psyche.  You’re more likely to get down on yourself, or start feeling resentment.    And you know where that leads.

If you’re willing to do some soul-searching and apply a bit of creativity, however, you can learn to let the best you shine through even at a job that’s less than ideal.  Here’s how:

1.  Know what your best qualities are. You can’t sell what you don’t know.  Assess your interests and talents.  What do people compliment you on again and again?  When do people ask for your help?  What tasks do you enjoy so much that they make you lose track of time?   Are you the one who heads projects? The motivator? The salesperson?   The trouble-shooter?  The idea generator? The technical guru?  The artist?  The peacemaker? The person who gets things done?  Organizations always need to fill these roles.

2. Apply for jobs that require that talent or ability. If you’re frustrated about not being able to find work doing what you love, perhaps you need to broaden your search.  The very useful ONET online, an occupational information site developed by the U.S. Department of Labor, offers details on requirements for different jobs.  You can also look for jobs that might need your talents.   On this page , for example, you can check off the boxes next to skills you possess, and ONET will generate an entire list  of occupations requiring these abilities.  Some may require additional training or education, but others may be a perfect fit and something you might not have thought of otherwise.

3.  Find a way to use your greatest talent on the job, anyway. Back when I worked as an  accountant, I made sure my bosses knew my true love was writing by making my audit reports as good as I could.  I also volunteered for any other writing projects that came up.   If you’re a sanitation engineer who dreams of being a salesmen, you can start by developing a good relationship with all the families on your route.  If you work  in a restaurant kitchen, but your dream is to create recipes of your own, what’s stopping you from making suggestions, or getting the cooks to try out your specialty after hours?   Sometimes the very act of using your favorite skills will show a side of you that your employer hasn’t’ seen.  Who knows where that might lead?

If you feel you simply can’t  exercise your abilities on the job, perhaps it is time to look for something better.   But that doesn’t mean you can’t put your talents to use on a volunteer basis somewhere else.   Maybe your church needs a good organizer/people person to put together a potluck dinner or Spring Fair.  Or you can’t find an IT job, but your neighbors would love to have someone show them how to keep in touch with their families via a computer they just can’t seem to get working.

The key is realizing that even if what you do best doesn’t seem to be paying off right  now, it could  pay off in the future.  But if you don’t keep exercising and building on these skills you’ll never know.  As Benjamin Franklin once said, ” Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What’s a sun-dial in the shade?

He had a point, I think.

How about you?   Have you had success getting paid to do something you love?

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Filed under employment ex-offenders, ex-offender psychology, goal-setting, hope for ex-offenders, recession ex-offenders, skills, talents

See, it’s not just you…

It might feel like it sometimes, but ex-offenders aren’t the only ones having difficulty finding work in this economy. An article in today’s Wall Street Journal explains how employers are increasingly reluctant to hire people who have been laid off more than once — even if the recession is to blame. Apparently, the number of Americans who have lost their jobs twice in the past two years is not only growing, but “their ranks are larger than in past recessions.”  What’s more, adds job coach Jeffrey Garber,

Those who have lost jobs twice recently will have to work twice as hard to convince the next employer why they ought to be hired there. Many businesses believe such individuals lack abilities and credibility rather than being victims of economic circumstance.”

Just goes to show you that people can be stigmatized for something other than having a record — and often have no choice but to take a job beneath their abilities.  One  poor woman they interviewed, who  started out as an HR exec at Circuit City, had to scramble recently to get an hourly administrative job. To me her story seems to illustrate more how short-sighted some employers can be.  Given that Circuit City went belly-up and the her next company wasn’t doing that well either, doesn’t really seem to be her skills that are in question here.

But then, we know that what employers think isn’t necessarily an accurate assessment of your abilities, anyway.  If there’s anything worth taking away from this article it’s some of the strategies suggested for second-time job losers, which could be just as useful for ex-offenders, imo.  You can check it out here.

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Filed under recession ex-offenders