Job-readiness Training - An Investment in Building a Solid Workforce and a Safer Community for All
By Anthony Wright, Interim CEO for Pioneer Human Services
As seen in the Puget Sound Business Journal
Businesses across our region are struggling to find workers. At the same time, there is a huge untapped pool of people in our community who want to work: people with conviction histories. Investment in job-readiness training for people who have been involved in the criminal legal system is one step that would help bridge this gap – meeting business needs while increasing the odds that people will not return to criminal behavior and incarceration. It is truly a win-win for all of us.
Many people I talk to are shocked when they learn that there are over two million people with conviction histories in Washington state. Approximately 8,000 people are released from prison in our state every year, and tens of thousands more cycle through local jails. Statistically, it is reasonable to predict that two-thirds will face chronic unemployment and under-employment as they seek to establish themselves in the community.
This is a significant resource for local businesses, but they rarely view it as such or consider it as an opportunity to meet their hiring needs. In some cases, this is rooted in deep societal bias toward people with conviction histories. In others, it is simply a lack of knowledge of the sheer number of people living with this barrier in our community and no real way to connect with these folks from a recruitment perspective. Additionally, many don’t understand the vital role that employment can play in reducing crime and recidivism in our community.
Research consistently points to employment as the single best predictor of a successful return to the community from prison. Not only does it provide income and the stability that comes with being able to support yourself, it enhances self-esteem, improves mental health, and refocuses individuals’ time and efforts on pro-social activities, making them less likely to engage in negative behaviors and to associate with people who do. Working also has a direct ripple effect on the family, allowing individuals to contribute to their families and support their children, which frequently generates more personal support and stronger positive relationships. All of these are markers for successful reentry, and are why employment is widely regarded as a gateway for people to become and remain law-abiding and contributing citizens in a community. Employment also has important societal benefits, including reduced strain on social service resources, contributions to the tax base, and safer, more stable communities.
But not everyone is prepared to secure and retain a job when they first come home. This is where job-readiness training comes in. Effective job-readiness programs generally start by helping individuals identify their skills and interests, as well as their preferred work environment, to help them identify the best job fits for their individual situation. Then they work to develop the skills needed to find and keep a job. This includes the hard skills required to secure a job – writing a compelling résumé and cover letter, techniques for job-search, navigating today’s technology to apply for jobs, practicing interview skills, and addressing questions about previous convictions – as well as the soft skills required to be effective in the work place and keep a job – how to effectively interact with authority, the importance of showing up on time every time, time management, professional communication, conflict resolution, and positive decision-making, both within their personal lives and at work.
A workforce development training program not only helps individuals to prepare for the workforce, it positions them to get in front of hiring managers in dire need of filling positions within their companies. We need to realize that employment barriers are also harmful to the national economy. According to a 2016 estimate, the U.S. annual Gross Domestic Product was reduced $78-87 billion due to the exclusion of people with felony convictions from the workforce. When accounting for the exclusion from entrepreneurial opportunities and the exclusion of those with misdemeanor convictions, the impact to GDP is likely to be higher.
By investing in job-readiness training for people with conviction histories, businesses can meet their hiring needs, cultivate a strong and dedicated workforce, and contribute to a safer and more just community in a very tangible and meaningful way.