Attitudes of Offenders on the Job-National Asso. of Home Builders

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. At our microphones today, back at our microphones is John Hattery. He is with the National Association of Home Builders, and the Home Builders Institute and also we have Will Parker from the CSOSA staff. Will is a senior program analyst and the person in charge of finding employment for offenders within the DC area, and to John and Wil, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Male Voice: Hi, Len, glad to be here.

Len Sipes: Alright, first I want to thank our audience, and that’s something I don’t do enough. We have 80,000 people coming to this site on a monthly basis, 80,000, and we are really grateful for all of the comments and we want you to know that we respond to every individual comment that you send us, either in the comments box, or in the email address directly to me. Either way, every comment is responded to and we work your comments into our shows. So, we wanted to thank you. If you have suggestions, go ahead, and as you are listening to the show, look for the email address, or look for the comments box and give us your feedback and we welcome your feedback, and we do incorporate your feedback into every show.

Alright, with that introduction, we are going to go back to John Hattery and when we had John last time, we talked about a variety of things that they have found. The National Association of Home Builders has these training institutes all throughout the country dealing with offenders, and hard to employ people, and they came up with six individual principles that lead to their success, and one was individualized services for offenders. Number two, was have a job development coordinator for offenders so you don’t have staff doing job development, you have a completely different person doing job development. Number three, when they did not do well on the job, the first job, you put them on another job site, and that’s a routine part of the experience. Number four, is to be sure that they have hands on experience, and that they actually know how to do the job. You know, when we are talking about bricklaying, that they do know how to lay brick, which seems commonsensical, but that was a key principle. Programs with a future. We’re talking about, in many cases, jobs in the building trades where you can go ahead and do magnificent careers where you can float from being an electrician to a plumber. You can bring on a variety of experiences and a variety of training. And number six was having a caring staff, and that was the success of the Home Builders Association and specifically the Home Builders Institute that John Hattery directly works for. John?

John Hattery: Hi Len. I wish I could say it all that quickly. My boss wishes I could say it all that quickly.

Len Sipes: Well, the point is that the Home Builders Institute and Home Builders Association, you’re are at multiple locations throughout the country and in many Job Corp centers throughout the country, and people who listened to the first show knew that I worked at Job Corp at one time, dealing with the Jail or Job Corp kids, and I was amazed at how comprehensive Job Corp was and the wide variety of services. Anything else to add about the Home Builders Association that you want to talk about before we get into today’s topic?

John Hattery: As you mentioned, there are two sides to the training house. We have our Job Corp program which is larger than our individualized customized program, the Workforce, Training and Employment Department, but both deal with hard to serve populations and both try to give what we try to call the five pieces of the employment puzzle to try nod toward making sure you have training, making sure you have linkages to jobs, making sure that you have the credentials, be it a trade’s credential or a high school diploma or a GED, and also do you have transportation, or have you planned for transportation because, you know, many times our clients don’t have cars of their own, don’t have driver’s licenses on their own. However, you have to take into count those kinds of logistical and operational things when you’re trying to link somebody to employment. So, essentially, the lessons we learn from our long history of Job Corp, my boss Dennis Torbett, created a model that we’ve been able to replicate across the country where we try to attend to these needs, to these five pieces of the employment puzzle that I call it.

Len Sipes: Okay, Wil Parker, you are the person in charge of finding jobs for offenders here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in Washington DC. And for those of you who have listened to the program over this year-and-a-half, and wow, close to 100 programs now, radio and television programs have heard what we do. We’re a federal Parole and Probation agency. We provide services exclusively to Washington DC. Wil Parker, I’ve talked to him 100 times about this whole process of finding jobs for ex-offenders, so Wil, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Wil Parker: It’s a pleasure to be here.

Len Sipes: And tell me what it is that you do as the person in charge of finding employment for former offenders.

Wil Parker: Okay, back in January of 2002, the agency had the wherewithal to convince congressional membership of the merits of placing a unit whose principal charge would be to provide education, employment and vocational opportunities for those individuals under our supervision. Since then, on average, we serviced on an annual basis roughly about 4000 individuals each year and we have collaborated with the Work Force Investment Council here within DC and also the DC Chamber. We are also working with the Department of Employment Services, as we speak. And we are making in-roads. We are not where we need to be, but by the grace, we will get there.

Len Sipes: Nobody is where they need to be. That’s one of the things that I’ve found out about this whole thing. But DC government provides the bulk of the training, correct?

Wil Parker: DC government does. One of the things that the mayor is currently working on is an initiative with the private employers as well. We want to plug them and peg them to see if we can have upwards of about 200 jobs this year in which we can plug our offender population into.

Len Sipes: Right, but the point is that if you, and I was interviewing a person about four weeks ago, who went through a job development course here in the District of Columbia, and now he is out there working on a regular basis, so we do the assessments. I mean, we do educational programs. We do the assessments, and we suggest different occupations for that person to plug himself/herself into, but they are essentially DC government programs that provide the job training, right?

Wil Parker: Yes, by and large.

Len Sipes: All right, in just going through the tremendous and long introduction, to talk about just what I want to talk about today, and this is a topic of some controversy. It is a topic, I think of great importance; the attitudes of the ex-offenders on the job. So, what do I mean by the attitudes of the offenders on the job. Well, I’ve talked to people who have construction companies here in town, commercial construction, and John represents the National Association of Home Builders, and so they do individual homes. They do apartment complexes, condominiums, that sort of thing. So, I’ve talked to various people on various sides of the construction industry, and the thing that I hear more than anything else is that it is not so much , you know, don’t necessarily bring me a person who knows how to lay brick; I can teach that person to lay brick. I don’t necessarily need that person to know how to pour concrete. Send me a person who will show up every single day, who will not use drugs, who will not use alcohol, who has the ability to learn, has the right attitude, and that person can go from $0 to $60,000 a year in one year.

Now, and I’m saying to myself, wow! That’s an amazing concept, and John Hattery, we are going to talk to you about this first. That’s an amazing concept, don’t you think? Contrary to popular opinion, it may not be the issue having massive job training programs. Is the construction industry at the place now where they are simply saying come one and come all for the person with the right attitude and the right set of willingness skills? Can that person make a good living, John?

John Hattery: Well, you’re talking about the balance between soft skills and hard skills. You’re talking about the balance between workplace behaviors, appropriate workplace behaviors, understanding what they are, being able to demonstrate them on a consistent basis for a long time, and also being able to combine that with technical skills. We try our best, maybe not always as well as we’d like, but we try our best to attend to those needs, so people understand the nuts and bolts of getting to work on time, and having a plan B, and understanding that bosses have bad days too, and occasionally you have to listen to a boss that’s having a bad day event, and life isn’t fair, and all of those kinds of things, along with how do you handle your paychecks and all those other soft skills that go into being a successful employee.

You know, I run training programs and so I’m going to lean toward talking a little bit about the value of training as it relates to the soft skills only in that many of my clients, and I think you’ll agree with me, and Will agree with me, that many of our clients have so many needs, have so many esteem needs and so many opportunities from their prior lives where they failed that they are not used to being successful, and so even if you talk about the soft skills general terms, and you give them the opportunity to practice those soft skills, if you don’t combine that with hard skills training, you walk into a situation where they may not feel the same confidence they would feel otherwise.

If, for instance, and to use your analogy as a bricklayer. If I send someone who has really demonstrated great soft skills, but really doesn’t know much or have much confidence with brick and a trough, or a mixer or anything, okay? And I send him to a job site where they are expected to work and be productive as a bricklayer or a mason’s tender, or a mason’s helper, but they don’t have that hard training behind them to bolster their confidence, you know, that’s where I think that you could also run into a problem. I think the training and the certification and the six months or 12 weeks, or whatever the length of the training program is, that gives the person the hard stills and bolsters their confidence as do the soft skills.

Len Sipes: But here’s my question, and it’s going to go over to Wil. Is the industry at the point where, and I’m talking specifically the construction industry. Is the industry to the point where it’s saying to all comers, not just to offenders, but all comers, that, “Look, we can train you. You don’t have to have prior training. We can train you. Just for the love of good God, show up every single day at 5:00 a.m., show up ready work every single day. I don’t want to hear about baby-mama drama. I don’t want to hear about anything else besides you are going to give me eight good hours today of work. Do that. Put a smile on your face, and I can show you how to make really good money in a fairly short amount of time.” Is that where the industry is, Wil?

Wil Parker: I think so. What we’ve come to recognize, particularly with the employers here within DC is that they are telling us that they need someone with great conflict resolution skills, a good work ethic, and a desire to succeed. Having that as a building block, and that mindset will provide the platform on which they can also provide the technical skills, so that’s pretty much what we’ve been hearing from the employer and our community. Give us an individual who has a strong work ethic, and is willing to work, has a desire to succeed, and we can give them the technical skill to succeed on the job.

Len Sipes: Okay, when I was with the State of Maryland for 14 years, Public Safety and Correctional Services, with law enforcement and corrections, we had the Maryland Prison System under our department, and I talked to the guy in charge of what they call State Use Industry, which was just basically factories in prisons, and he said the most important skill that he teaches, that his people teach, to these thousands of offenders on a yearly basis was just what we are talking about. This is a prison, now. Showing up, every day. Being on time. Working cooperatively. No taking off sick when it’s not necessary. Working as a team with no feedback, no fuss and no muss, and if you’ve got to skip lunch to make a production quota, that’s exactly what you do, and he would routinely fire people, off these prison jobs, because there was a waiting list for these jobs. And then two months later the person would come back, and he would mouth off at somebody and he’d get fired again, and then two months later he would come back and to begin to understand that this is not going to work. Mouthing off to your supervisor is not going to work, and so he said that those were the most important skills. The bricklaying was important, and the plumbing was important, and working on a printing press was important, but that was the most important thing.

So, are we at the point where we need to focus on attitude as much as we are focusing on bricklaying skills?

Wil Parker: I think, really and truly, that the two go hand in hand. One of the things that we are starting to recognize, and we are in the process of trying to build a strong curriculum for is the core skills, which is a combination of the life skills, the work ethic and the job readiness, so we teach individuals how to interview, we prepare their resume, but we also talk about a sense of right and wrong, a sense of dedication and a good work ethic because we realize that in order for a person to succeed, they need to have a reasonable sense of self esteem and a desire to be successful, so we believe that those two complementary components go into the equation. When you provide those technical skills, you have a well-rounded individual and someone who can, in fact, not only be on the job, but can also experience career enhancement at the same time.

Len Sipes: I’m going to give contact points for both of you. For John Hattery, you can go to the website,, Home Builders Institute, and I’ll repeat that at the end of the program. For Wil, you can go to, and that is the website for the Federal Court Services and Supervision Agency here in downtown DC or (202)220-5300 for the main number.

John, going back to you. Now, okay, I want to acknowledge the fact the District of Columbia, the metropolitan area, not the city but the standard metropolitan statistical area has the lowest rate of unemployment in the country. From what we’re discussing about it’s more important for the attitude than it is for the hard skills, or they are equally important, and I’m not quite sure what the message is, is that going to apply in San Diego? Is it going to apply in Minneapolis? Is it going to apply to Cleveland, or is it just unique to DC?

John Hattery: I think that having a good employee with good relational skills to their coworkers is a universal concept. The difference comes, and where we will probably be able to bear this out, in down economies, like we are having in most of the rest of the country, it takes HBI, the Home Builders Institute, it takes our placement staff a longer than it did a couple of years ago to hook someone up with a good job. Wages in certain parts of the country are backing up due to the economy. However, the concept of having good soft skills, having a good employee, combined again as we will mention with good technical skills, are good universal concepts and concepts that are not going to change from region to region.

Len Sipes: Okay, why would this even be an issue, and I know why. So many of our offenders come from histories of abuse. I’m not making excuses for those people who are about to climb on email and tell me that I’m making excuses. I’m not making excuses for criminal behavior, at all, but to say that the bulk of offenders come from histories of abuse and neglect is like saying today is the 29th of May, and it’s just factual, and I understand that. And that is, in my opinion, where most of the attitude issues are coming from, the fact that if you raise yourself from age eight, and you get involved in substance abuse at age 10, and you’re smoking a lot of marijuana at age 13, inevitably that is going to lead you to a lot of issues.

John Hattery: I would say this, Len. I would say that I agree with everything you said right there, and you can even take the word offender out of that sentence, and put “potential worker,” and there are a lot of business owners who are around talking, going to the Department of Labor, or other places, and talking about the readiness of folks.

Len Sipes: That’s true, there are a lot of civilians, and that’s a terrible way of putting it, but there are a lot of non-offenders for who the issues are just the same. But, I mean, what does that say? When we take a look at offenders and it is clearly what’s in society’s best interest to help people and they are coming out of the prison systems, and they caught up in the Criminal Justice System, and there is just study after study that will say that this is true, then what is our magic formula here? And I know it’s not a one-stop concept. I know there are many other things to focus on, but should we be dealing more with attitudes and sending out the message, and this is the message my father gave me, when I went out into the workforce, and he arranged my first job at the age 16, and his advice was, “Shut up. Listen to the people. Give them a good eight hours. Don’t screw off,” but more than anything else, “Yes, sir, and no, sir, and just shut up and listen.” Now, that seems to me that the advice my father gave to me when I was 16, and I was pushing paper products through the middle of the hot humid summers in downtown Baltimore, from place to place, and that advice seems to apply today.

Wil, do you want to try that?

Wil Parker: I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think that one of the things that Mr. Torbett, my boss, shared with us in terms of analyzing the mindset and culture and mores of our prisoner population is that contrary to what we initially thought in terms of rehabilitation, that often times, these individuals need to be habilitated, and that is to say that they have not encountered a household in which mom and dad got up every morning and went to work, and was dedicated to the propositions of making provisions for their family and extended family. So when you couple that mindset with individuals who in the case of CSOSA, only 39% of our population actually has a high school diploma, you’re talking about some problems with their skill set, but also with their mindset, and I think that both of them have to be addressed, and fortunately, I’m very proud to say that CSOSA has understood the necessity of trying to address both of these issues within the curriculum that it has in place for the offender population.

Len Sipes: Because a lot of that curriculum is very comprehensive. The Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency is lucky, and we are lucky because we are a federal agency, and we are lucky because we have money that other parole and probation agencies simply do not have, so we can send our folks to anger management. We can send our folks for a GED assessment, and we can send our folks for a job assessment to figure out what that person is going to be good at, and another occupational area that we have been very successful in, in terms of placing offenders, has been the commercial driver’s license program, and I think that’s a wide open area for people with criminal histories, as long as they are not driving secured loads, and that sort of stuff, and they are making very good money.

I guess my point is, and I keep coming back to the same point, that there are an array of offenders who can come out from the prison system and not work at McDonalds.
We’re talking about real jobs with not just a living wage. We are talking about way beyond a living wage. We’re talking about real jobs with a real future.

John Hattery: If we can get people to understand the opportunities in front of them, and one of the things my mind went you were talking about pushing paper around downtown Baltimore, was that one of the ways that we attack that Home Builders Institute, is that we hire instructors from the field. We don’t hire vocational educators. We hire guys who have poured concrete for a living, who are carpenters for a living, electricians for a living, and then we give them skills through some course work and some other things to teach them how to teach, but essentially what we ask them to do is run their shop, run their group like it is a job site. That includes, frankly, behavior stuff. If this young man, and this young man are having a hard time, and they are not getting along, and it’s affecting the production of the shop because, as I told you last time, we do a lot of community service, and we do a lot of work out in the community ,

Len Sipes: A lot of the Habitat for Humanity buildings, actually going out and building homes. You are just not laying bricks. You are now laying bricks in a house.

John Hattery: Right, and although we are not production, we are training, and occasionally we run into a deadline, and occasionally we are able to use that as another teaching point, and so some of the soft skills that we have discussed and agreed are so important, one of the ways that we teach them is we have a guy who has done nothing but make his living, or a woman in many cases, and they have done nothing but make their living as a tradesperson, teaching young people who are trying to be a tradesperson, the importance of working together and the importance of teamwork, and the importance of being able to get along, even with somebody that you don’t particularly like.

Len Sipes: That’s right, but you know, that’s just the difficulty, I think, and either one of you can take this. It’s that if you have a person who is struggling with getting along with other human beings, and one of the things that you mentioned before, John, I think is extremely important, you will take a person who you have trained through the National Association of Home Builders and the Home Builders Institute, somebody who you have trained, and if they don’t work out in the first job, you’ll find another job placement for them. It’s not just a one-shot deal, and I think that’s also extraordinarily important.

John Hattery: You touched on it earlier, and Will touched on it earlier, your story about the gentleman who runs the prison job system and how there was improvement after he had to let somebody go and bring him back a couple of times. We tell people all the time, they must show up on time, they must show up every day and put in a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage, and if they choose not to do those things, they may find themselves with out a job. Young people, especially, they look at me, or they look at their instructor, and that all becomes kind of noise to them.

Len Sipes: And I understand that, just simply having young daughters, and you try to instill the values of an occupational attitude and to find out that one of my daughters did not communicate well with one of her employers, and basically said some inappropriate things, and I’m going, “What in the name of good heavens are you thinking?” So, I understand it’s young people, generically, but I also understand that with a lot of people coming out of the prison system, or even people who are on probation, they don’t get a lot of shots. You know, my daughters can fail, and yet they’ve got a soft landing waiting for them, up to a certain point. But, if you are out there coming out of the prison system, you don’t have a lot of soft landing points. If you go out and screw it up the first and second times, that may be a lifelong decision that you’ve just made. My daughters, you know, they are remedies, but you’ve got to be able to somehow and some way convince people that you don’t have a lot of bites at the apple when you’ve come out of tough living situations and you, generally speaking, do not have a high school diploma, and generally speaking you do not have a job history. It may be now or never. I don’t want to be that melodramatic, but it may be that. Wil?

Wil Parker: I think you are absolutely right. Not to discount what John is saying, and I think that I have to applaud a system in which an individual can be fired and then rehired a month or two later. I think that is great, but one of the things that we are trying to focus on is preparing an individual by way of his mindset in which he has an opportunity, she has an opportunity and we are trying to make sure that the individual makes the most of that situation.

So, as such, what we instruct them is that this very well could be your only opportunity for a long, long time so please make the most of it.

The other thing that is worthy of note is that often time employers are not willing to take a second chance on a referral agency such as CSOSA. So, to the extent that we send someone and that person doesn’t work out, we often times do not have the luxury of sending a second person because the employer just says, “Look, we gave you an opportunity, and that person didn’t show well, so we need to think about it before we make another overture towards your company in terms of actually hiring someone.”

Len Sipes: Sure, and we are in the final minutes of the program, and I want to give the contact points once again, but I do want to over-emphasize the fact there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of offenders who do come out of the prison system and who are on probation who do make the transformation, who do understand their circumstances in life, and so I don’t want to make it all negative now. They do understand the circumstances, and they do understand what side is up, and they do understand their circumstances, and they do well. They go out and go to Miller & Long and go to another construction company, and they learn how to pour concrete, and they go onto good careers. Wil, that’s correct, right?

Wil Parker: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Okay, and I just wanted to end the program on an upbeat and optimistic note, but I think this has been an extraordinarily interesting discussion, and I thank both of you for participating. Our guests today have been John Hattery and he is with the National Association of Home Builders Institute. I think this is an extraordinarily powerful program all throughout the United States, and they should be congratulated for their involvement. It’s, and John thank you for being on the program.

John Hattery: Thank you very much, Len. Thanks for having me.

Len Sipes: Wil Parker, Senior Program Analyst for the Federal Court Services and offender supervision agency here in downtown DC, (202)220-5300, for the generic number and just ask for Wil. The website here is Wil, thanks for being on the program.

Wil Parker: Thanks, it was really a privilege to be here and share my comments as they relate to occupational, educational and employment opportunities for our offender population.

Len Sipes: Okay, and I thank you, the listener. There are 80,000 of you every single month who come onto the website and to listen to these programs at DC Public Safety, and we are extremely appreciative of your involvement. This is Len Sipes. I’m your host, and please have yourselves a very pleasant day.

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