Successful Reentry Through Employment-Transcript

DC Public Safety Television

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See the television show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/2016/03/successful-reentry-through-employment/

Hi and welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Nancy Ware. Today’s show focuses on successful reentry through employment. Criminologists recognize that employment is crucial to successful reentry.

CSOSA understands that we have to do everything in our power to prompt employers to hire those we supervise. If you have questions or suggestions about CSOSA as a source for hiring, please call 202-220-5721 to talk to our employment specialists. We will post this number throughout the program.

To discuss this important issue, joining us today is the director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, Deborah Carroll.

Director Carroll, welcome to Public Safety.

Thank you for having me.

First, I want to talk a little bit about your vision for the Department of Employment Services and the implications it has for those that we supervise, folks who are coming back from prison or who are under community supervision.

So my vision actually is to really build a system. Right now, the programs within the District of Columbia work within our silos and we do that fairly well, but in order for us to really an effective work force system we have to work closer together. That means reducing some of the duplication that happens across some of the agencies, making certain that businesses are aware of the services and the talent that we have in the District and communicating that better to the public. Then third, of course, making sure that folks have access to our services and systems. So what the means for CSOSA and the clients that you serve as well other returning citizens in the District is that being more accessible is going to be key to any success and ensuring that we have quality programs and services that can serve that.

One of the programs that we really found to be extremely helpful for our folks under supervision is Project Empowerment, but I know you have several other programs that you’re about to put in place that you’d like to share with our audience. I’d certainly like to hear more about them and the implications for the opportunities for those that we serve.

I’ll start with Project Empowerment. Project Empowerment is a program that’s been in place since 2002. The District has served more than 10,000 returning citizens and other hard-to-hire residents in the District. Typically these are individuals that have historically cycled on and off jobs and had difficulty retaining their jobs or because of their characteristics have had difficulty accessing employment.

What’s really important about this program is there’s a three week intensive that happens prior to putting anyone on a worksite. That three week intensive really focuses in on what those barriers are to the person being successful in employment. It helps them to deal with workplace related stress and how to handle that better. It focuses in on career pathways and understanding what their career goals are and really helps them to establish a roadmap to success.

It’s then followed by up to six months of work-related subsidized employment. We have a number of businesses that support returning citizens and others in the workplace. During that time period, that resident has an opportunity to demonstrate their skills while earning a wage at the same time.

What we have found historically is that programs like subsidized employment or programs that provide some kind of stipend tend to have better results in terms of longevity and completion rates in the program. I think what’s really critically important is that for residents that have trouble retaining jobs having a period of steady work experience that they can put on their resume is critically important and at the same time learning a skill in the work place.

So we’ve taken the successes of Project Empowerment and then tried to replicate certain other programs maybe from other populations or maybe even the same population but different variations of the same theme. My history is, of course, working with families and in analyzing the successes and the challenges around individuals that have children in particular is the problem with having steady work histories. When a business is trying to make a decision about a candidate, if they see someone with sporadic employment then a person that has good employment, obviously they’re going to pick the person that has a steady employment.

So during the time that I was working in that space, we really realized that  work experience is really critical. Also earning and learning at the same time is also critical because we found through our data analysis that residents sometimes will stop a program, whether it be educational program or other type of training program, because they need to support their families or they need to support their household.

We don’t want residents to have to be put in a decision of making a choice between getting their GED or a credential that can propel them to the middle class to having to find employment. So Project Empowerment and programs like that are the direction that we’re heading in.

One of the new programs that we’re working on is the Career Connections program. That program, in particular, is critically important because it’s part of our Safer Stronger D.C. initiative with the mayor. We’re doing that in particular. We’re targeting justice-involved youth aged 20 to 24 and specifically in the priority police service areas in the District. That’s going to be our priority group that we’re going to be focused on.

Through this investment, about $4.5 million was invested by the city, we are going to be working very closely with CSOSA as well as other organizations that serve justice-involved youth to really both identify youth and provide them with a suite of professional development services including programs similar to what Project Empowerment offers along with a period of work experience. Within that program, we will be providing incentives for those residents to also pursue their education. So we’re combining, again, some of the good things we know coming out of the Project Empowerment program and then marrying it up with a younger population that oftentimes needs education to help support them through their career path.

That population is, as you know, one of the areas that we really want to focus much more attention on in the District of Columbia because we have a number of programs. Some are youth employment, but they really need steady income so I think that those are real innovations that will help our city substantially, in particularly with this population.

I’m really excited about it because there are also other initiatives that we’re going to fold in to both Project Empowerment and the Career Connections program. That’s, of course, the Tech-Hire Initiative.

The Tech-Hire Initiative is an initiative through partnership, again, with CSOSA and other organizations we’ll be working with youth and teaching them the skills that will help them to build a pathway in the IT industry. Many youth now are very tech savvy. They oftentimes have cell phones. They use the internet. Those are skills that they already have. We want to be able to introduce the concepts of A+ certification and network administration along with maybe cyber security and ethical hacking. All of those programs have certifications where a person can complete them, demonstrate their work experience, and have the potential to earn a living wage and definitely move into a pathway of the middle class.

That’s great because I know that the whole field of IT and technology is an open field. If we can get some of our folks involved in that and learning at a young age and building on the skills that they already have and the knowledge that they already have, that would be substantial.

Yeah, I think that the work force development industry is changing. It’s changing in a good way, in the sense that it’s now understanding better what businesses need. It’s also projecting what we need for the future and of course, IT is one area that the United States as a whole needs better expertise in and there’s no reason why our friends coming out of CSOSA’s program or any of our other programs shouldn’t be a part of that.

The other thing is that people usually learn better when they’re doing. There’s been this myth, I think, that long-term unemployed residents don’t have the skills to be successful in the work place. I can tell you now just from my short experience with DOES and some of the youth that I’ve seen coming through the programs and the people that I’ve encountered that’s the furthest thing from the truth. It’s our job to make sure that we profile them to the public and to businesses in a way that shows that they can actually be successful and build better relationships with business and have different support mechanisms in place that allow for businesses to thrive while they’re working with residents and helping them to be successful in the work place.

Again, these earn-and-learn opportunities I think is one way to do that. The other is expanding our on the job training resources, being able to provide support to businesses that hire residents, making sure that they’re aware of the work opportunity tax credits and other incentive programs that the IRS have provided to businesses that hire the harder to employ citizens in this country.

Are you finding that a lot of the businesses are taking advantage of those incentives?

There is a growing interest, I think, in the subsidized employment space. Borrowing what we’ve learned from summer youth employment this year and the success we’ve had in getting residents that are in that 22 to 24 year old range placed in jobs. We’re finding really a growing interest in that. In particular because that’s an age group where you have a certain level of maturity that allows them to be open to learning. What we’re finding is that they’re not squandering those opportunities. They’re coming to work on time. They’re doing the things that are necessary for them to be successful in the work place.

I think it’s exciting that you’re dispelling some of those myths about our young people and their interest in employment and their willingness to do what they need to do to maintain those jobs. A lot of times they do need a lot of help and coaching and those kinds of things. Are there any plans within DOES in terms of working with young people to make sure that they stay in those jobs?

So we’re making sure that we provide the supportive services in the program. I think what’s going to be unique about Career Connections and what we’re also changing in our Project Empowerment program is that follow-up after they’ve been employed. Our goal is to have them retain those jobs at least for a year because if they do that then typically they’re on their way to being able to really be successful in that job. So we’ve heard definitely from businesses that sometimes those first few months are the most difficult.

Then also looking at any gaps that are available in the system that we can add support. A good example is transportation. There are some areas of the city where transportation is more difficult depending on where you have to go to go to work or what time you have to be at work. A good example is construction and they start at five in the morning. If you have children, there’s no child care available or not as many child care slots available in places that open at five a.m. so what do you do in order to make sure that your children are taken care of. That’s just one example.

Those are important aspects of maintaining a job. Certainly our partnership with the Department of Employment Services offers another resource through CSOSA to support some of the work that you’re doing. We’re very excited to have you here in the city. Are there any other initiatives for older individuals in the District that you want to discuss?

One area that we are focusing on is looking at ways that we can expand the subsidized employment to older residents and really building the similar model that we have in both the Project Empowerment program as well as the youth program for our seniors and those 35 and up range. Those are things that we’re looking to leverage right now.

We have the LEAP Academy which again is focused on younger people but in our work that we see in the District we have a lot of talented residents that want to either get back into the work force or are looking to increase their employment. They may be underemployed. So we’re really being mindful of that as one of our areas of focus.

The other is our professionals that are looking for employment and having a different suite of services available for them. Most times they don’t stay unemployed for very long. We do have some though that have been maybe caring for family members that have been sick and have been out of the work force for a while and need to get back into the work force. Others that are looking for different career paths as they transition out of unemployment. We’re trying to develop a whole suite of services connected to them.

We’re excited about all of those opportunities. Surprisingly, we have every single one of those types of individuals so we’ll be taking advantage of everything that you have to offer. We look forward to working with you and letting us know how we can support the work that you’re doing here in the District of Columbia.

On that note, I’m going to wrap up our first segment. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been my pleasure to talk to Deborah Carroll, the director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services. Stay with us for the next segment as we continue our discussion on employment and successful reentry with two new guests.

Thank you so much Director.

Hi and welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Nancy Ware. We’re continuing our conversation on successful reentry through employment in the second segment with two employers who have hired people under the supervision the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency.

My guests for this segment are Marianne Ali, director of training D.C. Central Kitchen, and Omar McIntosh, CEO of Perennial Construction.

Marianne and Omar, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Thank you.

Thank you.

I’d like to start this segment off just asking you to tell us a little bit about what you do and then we’ll talk a little bit about the work that you do with our clients. So why don’t I start off with you Marianne?

Sure, Nancy. Thank you. My name’s Marianne Ali, and I’m the Director of Culinary Job Training for D.C. Central Kitchen. We run four culinary job training programs at the Kitchen, three at another location working with a local partner. We work with a lot of returning citizens, and we have a longstanding relationship with CSOSA that I’m really excited to talk about.

I can’t wait because you all have done an outstanding job in working with some of our clients.

Mr. McIntosh?

Thank you. Perennial Construction is a Washington D.C.-based commercial general contractor. We also have self-performed capabilities in structure repair and restoration and commercial demolition. We have had a great relationship with CSOSA and hired up to about 50 individuals over the last year and a half in our self-performed crews.

Excellent. I think it’s really important to talk a little bit about how long you’ve been hiring men and women under supervision and what your experiences have been. I’d like to hear a little bit about some of the challenges that you’ve faced and some of the success stories. I’ll start of this time with you Leo.

Certainly. I think that we started in early ’14, we had a labor need on a project. I went to my community resources and I met Mr. Tony Lewis with Project Empowerment. Through Tony we had a table of about 12 eager individuals, and I think that we hired every one of them for a specific project. Of that crew, I think four are still with us to this day. One has risen to the ranks for foreman. He’s a crew leader right now on a project in Washington D.C. So we’ve had great success. Our crew is led by three individuals who we all found through CSOSA and Project Empowerment. We also have a great network now to go back to CSOSA and vet and train new employees.

Excellent. And Marianne?

D.C. Central Kitchens has been in existence for 25 years. Since its inception, we have always worked with returning citizens. I think that our relationship with CSOSA has been at least 15 years of my tenure that we’ve worked closely with you all.

The organization itself has about 140 employees and 42% of those employees are graduates of our culinary job training program. About 50% of those folks are directly from CSOSA so we are excited about that.

Great. We are excited too obviously.

Some of the challenges that you’ve faced, if any, that you can share with our audience?

You know Nancy, when you think about culinary job training or culinary you think about food but our approach is we can teach folks how to cook but we really understand the challenges that our folks come in to us with. So we address each and every, well the majority of those challenges. We start off every morning with a self-empowerment group that has absolutely nothing to do with cooking at all but everything to do with changing your thinking and your behavior. That group is really, really helpful. At our graduations, folks are always talking about cooking was fine but this is what really helped me.

We also offer a transition group that’s specifically for folks that have just come home in the last year and a half and have those challenges, having to balance their time, reunifying with their family, child support, to really sort of help them navigate through those challenges successfully. Because those are the kind of things that people get tripped up on and we want to make sure that we help them manage that in a way that they don’t go back, that they don’t recidivate.

We also have a women’s group, gender specific that talks about challenges with being under supervision, sometimes it’s getting your children back and those kind of things. So we look for every area that there may be a need for that support and we just infuse it into what we do on a normal everyday.

That’s so important too because you know how hard it is a lot of times for the folks that come under supervision, particularly if they’ve been incarcerated for a period of time, to reintegrate successfully and to navigate, quite frankly, the community again.

Leo, can you talk a little bit about challenges that you might have seen? The folks that you’ve worked with?

Sure. I think in construction a lot of our success is based on our ability to react. When a client calls or has a need, we have to respond in a timely manner, we have to perform in a timely manner. So when it comes to our CSOSA hires it’s been about getting to work. That’s the first challenge. So employees who haven’t been working gainfully for years or weeks at a time, the cost. There’s a Metro card that has to be purchased and it has to take about two weeks before they get their first paycheck.

We have gone above and beyond our requirements by providing Metro cards. I keep smartcards. I keep them reloaded at all times in my office. We hand them out to new employees and they give them back to me on their first payday. I shake their hand and we exchange the paycheck for the card. It sounds simple but it’s necessary. We’ve had instances where individuals couldn’t get to work and you can imagine if you’ve been away from society for ten years, the concept of the metro, the taxi cab, or the bus is a little far out of reach. We’ve stepped in where there weren’t answers to provide those solutions. Yes it causes us to have a little higher margin on our work but hopefully our clients respect our work and will pay for those services.

Absolutely. I think it’s incredible that both of you all have taken the time to consider those issues and to try to address them like you have. Are there any incentives to hiring men and women who’ve been under supervision or who are coming back to society from incarceration?

Absolutely. We’re aware of many federal and local programs, even the tax abatement programs are available to us, but more importantly there’s a labor need in the city. There’s lots and lots of work in construction, infrastructure, industrial side, and we’re focusing very sharply on those areas. Where there’s a need, we’re trying to fill it. We’re trying to get our folks to work as soon as possible. There are programs. There are benefits. But more importantly there’s a need and a need to develop these individuals, all individuals with a positive attitude that want to work hard.

Excellent. Marianne?

Sure. Our approach is to work with our employers on the tax incentives. We have a huge employer base that we try to get involved into working with our students, our graduates.

One of the things that really is a consideration I suppose when you’re working with folks under our supervision are their criminal history and how difficult it is for them actually to get opportunities. What advice could you give to someone who’s reentering Washington D.C. or who is under supervision but has a criminal history in terms of seeking employment?

We advise our graduates to be honest but we also advise them to talk about what they are doing now, what they have done since they’ve come home, that they’re honest, that they’re eager to work, they have a great attitude. Nancy, we’ve had chefs come into the kitchen on a regular basis and the number one question and answer that we ask those chefs, “What do you look for?” And they’re looking for somebody, they’re not looking for somebody with a bunch of skills, they’re looking for somebody who is eager and has a great attitude.

That’s the critical piece right there.

I can’t emphasize this enough. I’ve hired pretty much every individual on our crew directly. I’ve spoken to them at length about what our expectations are, expectations of our clients, and expectations of their peers. I’ll tell you that we’ve had tremendous success because they respect their peers and they work together. Now that we’ve had two years working together as a field performance crew, there is a natural pecking order, and it’s seeming to work out for us at this point. So the attitude is a tremendous part of the hiring requirement. Not so much in your past but where you’re headed and how hard you’re willing to work getting there.

So critical. One of the things that we’d like to encourage more employers to do is consider this population. As an employer looking for someone, how would you encourage other employers like yourselves to consider this population? What kinds of things would you ask them to make consideration of for this hiring process as an employer?

I would say expectations need to change. I say that because a lot of employers expect you to walk in learning how to use the full suite of Microsoft tools and you’ve got a cell phone and you’ve got money in the pocket to get to work and get home. Those are not real expectations. I think that there’s a very, very large capable workforce that is serving time or under supervision right now. I would tell you that if your expectation is you’re going to help people be gainfully employed, build careers not just jobs, and have a long term sustainable career whether it’s with me or someone else that is what the expectation needs to be. From there, the rest is pretty easy.

That’s fabulous.

The way we do it at the Kitchen, Nancy, it’s a 14-week program. Our students are with for seven weeks and then they go on four weeks into an internship, then they come back to us for the last three weeks. We engage our potential employers to come to the Kitchen and be a part of the actual process, the training process. We hand pick our internship sites. We want to know that those chefs have been to the Kitchen, who understand our population, who want to give back, and want to work to help develop our students into great employees.

Both of you are extremely successful. I’ve been to your graduation Marianne and it’s so exciting to see the chefs come in, all the people that support the D.C. Central Kitchen. To just expose our folks who are under supervision to that is just incredible for their self esteem.

For you Leo, you’ve just got a number of projects in this city that you’re already involved in that you can tell our audience a little bit about if you’d like.

Out of respect for my clients, we don’t disclose most of our project sites but we do have several commercial sites under demolition and construction. Some in the Dupont Circle area and the downtown central business district as well. Our crews have traveled as far as Rock Hills, South Carolina working for public utility clients and as far north as Baltimore, Maryland on infrastructure projects. So we are very busy. We look to stay very busy and hopefully look to find a home for people in the communities we work in.

Excellent. Marianne, for you you’re working with many of the chefs, very important chefs, all around the city and the country quite frankly. You want to talk a little bit about some of those networks?

Of course there’s Jose Andres who’s a very good friend of the Kitchen, who also supports us on multiple levels. The students are exposed, for example, we just had our annual fundraiser and there were chefs there who are battling chefs competing and the students get to meet those chefs and work with, for example, Tyson’s came in. They came down to the kitchen, and the chef worked with the students. So they’re exposed on a regular basis. It’s really to get them comfortable in talking and understanding that those folks give their time because they want for you to end up working alongside them.

It has to be very encouraging and really an opportunity for you to feel that you’re giving back to the city when you’re hiring these men and women and also to watch their self esteem grow. Do you want to comment a little bit on some of the things that you’ve seen with the folks that you’ve worked with?

At the end of the program, we have a brunch that graduation morning. It’s a more intimate setting with the graduates and the staff. I’ve heard some incredible things. I’ve heard people say that they never have finished anything but a prison and now, “I’m graduating and I have a job. I’ll be able to give back to my community and come back to D.C. Central Kitchen and give back to D.C. Central Kitchen.” Women who have been able to get their children back doing the training program. It’s just incredible stories when you see folks the first day that come in and they’re sort of slouched over like this, and at the end of the program, their head is high, their eyes are open, and their shoulders are back. I can’t tell you the feeling that we get.

I’ve watched them. Omar, you’re going to end us.

I’ll tell you these stories are a labor of love but watching the progress and the levels of progress from earning your first paycheck to training a work crew to learning how to use tools and skills has been excellent.

I appreciate both of you joining us and sharing your experience and most importantly, being willing to open your heart and your businesses to this population who are very much in need of it.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been my pleasure to talk to Marianne Ali and Omar McIntosh. Again, if you have questions or suggestions about using CSOSA as a source for hiring please call 202-220-5721 to talk to our employment specialists. Thank you for watching today’s show. Please watch us next time. We explore another important topic in today’s criminal justice system. Have a great day.

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