Offender Employment

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/03/improving-offender-employment-through-employer-focused-programming-national-institute-of-corrections/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, a special show for you today on offender employment with two really knowledgeable individuals. John Rakis, he is consultant to the National Institute of Corrections, he is a workforce development specialist. Also at our microphones, back at our microphones, Francina Carter, she is a correctional program specialist for the National Institute of Corrections. She’s also the program manager of Offender Workforce Development.

To John and to Francina, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Francina: Thank you.

John: Thank you.

Leonard: John, let me start with you. What is workforce development? What is workforce development within the context of employing people within the criminal justice system?

John: It’s not charity work. Workforce development in the context of the criminal justice system is about serving the needs of both, to two customers really, of the person who’s involved in the criminal justice system, the offender, and the employer. Right now, we’re shifting our focus, I think, to look at what the employer needs. We need to be examining and understanding what the employer needs are and addressing what those needs are. We’ve been very unsuccessful in the past, I think, by just pushing people out into the system without doing that.

Leonard: The whole idea is to prepare people that come out of the prison system or are on probation to give them the best preparation possible to find a job because a job is indicative of success while under supervision, correct?

John: That’s a part of it. We want to prepare people but we want to prepare people to meet the needs of the employers. We need to be focusing on what their needs are and understanding what their needs are. All too often I think we push people out and either they’re not ready for employment but even if they are ready they’re not meeting the employer’s needs, what the employer wants. That’s where the new focus is right now.

Leonard: Okay. Francina, you put together through the National Institute of Corrections a wonderful set of documents that address the employer’s need, address the offender’s needs, address the needs of everybody involved in the process, correct?

Francina: Yes.

Leonard: Okay. Tell me about those. Those are very clear-cut, very easy-to-read documents about all of the different steps that people need to take, anywhere from getting the offender prepared to go out into the work world, working in partnership with other organizations. They’re very comprehensive. Tell me about these documents.

Francina: Okay, Leonard. We really looked at developing a model. It’s a very simple four-part model. At the base of that model is using labor market information. I think too often we are preparing offenders for jobs that aren’t available in their communities. We really have to take a look at what is the labor market information telling us? What are the forecasts? What are the emerging occupations? If we’re going to be spending dollars, much needed training dollars, we need to make sure that there are viable options for employment for people who take advantage of those training programs. Everything we do, we need that base of the labor market information.

John: There are too many training programs out there where there’s a saying, “We train and pray. We train them and then we pray that we can place them.” We need to change that. That’s where labor market information is really important. There are two ways that a practitioner in the field can obtain labor market information. Much of it is on the internet. The US Department of Labor has just a wealth of information by community, by zip code, by state, any way you want to look at it. They can tell you where the growth is going to be, not only for this year but for five years down the road. That’s one of the most valuable resources that practitioners have today.

It is also important to develop relationships with labor market information specialists. Virtually every state has a labor market information specialist. Most of the one-stops that exist in our communities have people who are experts in labor market information. We urge practitioners to go out there and get on the phone, look on the internet, but meet and talk to those people. Find out in your community where the growth is going to be. Very frequently, these labor market information specialists who are based locally, they know which companies are coming into town to start a new business. They’re the ones that have the heads-up on that information. Knowing these labor market information specialists not only will help you with the long-term forecasts but it helps practitioners know what’s happening today and what’s going to be happening in the next couple of months.

Leonard: You can find the tool kits that I mentioned on the website of the National Institute of Corrections, www.nicic.gov, www.nicic.gov. One is when an employer-driven model and tool kit suggestions for employment opportunities, strategies for developing employment opportunities. It just goes on and on with the various components of the criminal justice system, preparing job-seekers for employment. The whole idea is what’s the key, what’s the secret sauce in all of this to successfully employing people who are under criminal justice supervision.

Francina: Okay. Let’s go back to the model. We mentioned labor market information as being the undergirding of this model. In the middle is the target, employment. Three components of that model are: addressing the employer needs, preparing the job-seekers, and engaging partners. All three of those are equally important.

John has already mentioned that we really need to keep the employer’s needs in focus. We look at the labor market information. We see the emerging occupations. We see where the need for employees will be. We know we need to partner with these businesses to find out what their training needs are, to make sure that the training that we’re providing for the offenders is training that is industry-recognized, industry-standard training because we know that the employers are looking at their bottom line. They need people who are going to help them to deliver the services or the products that they are producing to make their businesses grow.

When we look at the job-seekers, we need to do some assessments. We need to see what their interests are, what their skills are, and put them into appropriate training programs where they will not only be able to get entry-level jobs but they will be able to pursue additional training, additional experience so that they can advance in those jobs and that promotes job retention. We know it’s really job retention that’s going to keep people out of the prison system. It’s the job retention that’s the protective factor against recidivism.

Leonard: I do want to remind everybody that on our own website here at Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency on the front page of that website, www.csosa.gov, www.csosa.gov, we do have a section called “Hiring Offenders”, hiring people under supervision where we have radio and television shows where we’ve interviewed both individuals caught up in the criminal justice system as well as employers and asked them about their experience in terms of the employment process when people are out under supervision.

This is a multi-stage process. That’s the most important thing in all of this. John, it’s just not a matter, as you said, to train them and pray but it’s a matter of systematically gaining information about the labor market systematically, preparing individuals for employment systematically, working with partnerships and working with potential employers. It’s a multi-stage process to do this correctly, correct?

John: Exactly. Assessment is so important. It’s not just a quick assessment. All too often I think people are in a hurry to get things done and they don’t do a thorough assessment. One has to look at risks and needs. What are the strengths that a person has? What are the barriers that they face? As Francina mentioned, what are their interests? What are their values? You don’t want to place a person in a job where they have no interest in doing the work for the long-term. You want to give them a career ladder so you want to match them to a job that meets their interests and their values. You want to determine how well they can work as a team. How flexible are they? How adaptable are they? Do they have the ability to accept criticism? These are all things that need to go into an assessment before you even think about sending somebody out to meet with an employer.

Do the assessment, deal with every barrier that exists. I frequently tell people that it’s the barrier that you don’t address, the one that you miss, the one that you just “We’ll deal with it later”, that’s the one that’s going to cause someone to either not get a job or to lose a job in a few months. It’s so important to identify all of those barriers, address the barriers, get that person ready, identify what their interests are, and then begin to make the match.

Leonard: I’m sorry, go ahead.

John: I think the same thing holds true when one meets with employers. I’ll let you ask your question. I know you want to follow up.

Leonard: I was talking to our employment people before the radio program. They were telling me that we have comprehensive services here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in terms of both education and in terms of employment. It’s a multi-stage, very comprehensive process. Our shtick, if you will, our main approach to communicating this message is that we have people who are job-ready now. We don’t have risks to public safety. We have people who are job-ready now who need to find work. We’re encouraging employers to work with us.

They also said in many cases you have to stabilize them first before they get involved in these services. If there are mental health or substance abuse issues or other issues, anger management, you have to go through the process of fixing those issues first before getting them involved in the job preparation part of it or the education part of it. Are they right or wrong?

John: No, they’re 100% right. People have to be ready for work although the first message that I would give employers is not that we have people that are ready to work for you. The first thing that you want to actually do is listen to the employer. Find out what their needs are. All too often I think what happens is that we get people ready for work and they are ready for work, they are job-ready. Then we run out and we tell employers we have job-ready people for you. That’s not the right approach.

The right approach is listen to what the employer has to say. I’ll give you an analogy. Imagine if you walked into a car dealership and you were going to buy a sedan. A car salesman ran up to you and said, “Do I have a van for you. It’s a great van. It’s the best-selling van that we have. You’ve got to buy it.” You’d walk right out of the store because you’re not there to buy a van. You’re there to buy a sedan. He didn’t ask you what you wanted.

It’s the same thing with employers. One has to asses what their needs are, know the business really well before you make that referral. That’s where I think this tool kit … There’s a lot of emphasis in the tool kit on that, listening to what the employer has to say, understanding that employer when you go out and meet with an employer for the first time. You only have one chance to make a good first impression. You have to listen first, not sell. What are your needs? What are your hiring challenges at this point? Find out what those are and then you can start making matches.

Leonard: The question that I [crosstalk 00:11:50]. The question, either one of you, is because of the comprehensive nature of the documents that I have made reference to from the National Institute of Corrections, the multi-stage process, are probation agencies throughout the country prepared for that systematic approach to finding employment for people on supervision? Do they have the resources? We have them here at Court Services but we’re a federally funded agency. We have more resources than most. Is this level of complexity … Do most probation agencies, do they have the resources and the personnel to give this level of complexity justice?

Francina: You know Len, the most important thing is people need to look at partnerships. None of us can do all of this work by ourselves. I think most agencies look within themselves to see what their capacity is and how they can do this work. That’s certainly a good place to start but then they need to look at other agencies within their community, not just government agencies but also community-based agencies, your nonprofits and your faith-based organizations. There should be an engagement of partners in this work. Partner with the workforce investment board in your area. Partner with the Chamber of Commerce. Partner with nonprofits that do much of this work. Partner with other criminal justice agencies, even educational institutions. Look at who’s offering apprenticeships and if they have apprenticeships, who offers the education component of those apprenticeships. Each agency does not have to do all of this alone. As a matter of fact, some of the best programs are those that have these multi-agency partnerships as well as a public/private partnership, so public agencies as well as private and nonprofit agencies.

Leonard: John, I’m assuming that you would agree that this is not just a job for parole and probation, it’s just not a job for community corrections, it’s a job for the entire community and it has to be approached through a partnership basis.

John: It is. One of the things that I always recommend that agencies do is map their stakeholders. Who would be interested in this? That would include employers. It would include the Chamber of Commerce. It would include the workforce investment board. Map out your stakeholders, everyone that would be concerned or interested in this work, and then reach out to them. Then develop partnerships along those lines.

Leonard: We’re just about halfway through the program. I want to reintroduce our guests. John Rakis, he is a consultant with the National Institute of Corrections. He is a workforce development specialist. We also have in our studios Francina Carter. She is a correctional program specialist and a program manager. She is program manager for the Offender Workforce Development Program of the National Institute of Corrections, www.nicic.gov., www.nicic.gov, for these amazingly good documents in terms of laying out this whole process.

Going back to either one of you, the real skill here from what I’m hearing from both of you, the real skill in all of this is having somebody in parole and probation who has those organizational skills, who has those public outreach skills, the public relations skills to pull together a rather large coalition and bring them all together and say, “We have a common problem. I can’t do this. We can’t do this on our own. Catholic charities and the local construction company and the workforce development people and everybody else involved in the process, you need to help me. We need to sit down and figure out together how we’re going to do the very best job possible to get people under supervision employed.” That’s a real skill on the part of somebody in parole and probation, is it not?

Francina: It is. It can often start as a steering committee, putting together a steering committee. John talked about mapping stakeholders, inviting those people to the table. It may just start with something pretty informal like a breakfast or a luncheon, kind of a brown-bag luncheon to talk about what the issues are, how they need to be addressed, and who needs to be at the table. A lot of jurisdictions have such steering committees and they meet on a regular basis.

Another way to start is with training. Have an opportunity for a half-day training where you bring people into the room. Oftentimes they have these same needs and they are struggling with some of these same issues. Having a training program where you really look at what are the skills needed, the competencies needed by the service providers to be able to do this work. NIC offers training programs such as re-entry employment specialists and bringing folks together in the room to share some of these common issues but also some of the common solutions to the issues. There are some ways to get some folks up to speed on how to do this in a community.

Leonard: One of the things that we’ve done here at Court Services is to get the employers themselves to sit here before these very microphones and to go into television studios and to explain the process, why they’ve hired people under supervision and the fact that it’s worked for them, to hear it directly from them. That testimony needs to come from the employers as well as the people in community corrections, right?

Francina: Absolutely.

John: One of the things that we recommend is that any program that serves the employment needs of justice-involved individuals should have an employer advisory committee. That committee should meet on a regular basis and then it should be taken … Get employers involved in that way. Many will contribute. They will let you know if you’re doing the right thing or if you’re doing something that doesn’t work for them.

Once you’ve engaged them in that activity, over time engage them as champions for your work. Get them to join you on radio shows like we’re doing today and to speak to the public about their involvement with the program and what they’re doing to make it work and how well it’s worked for them. Videotape them, if you can, and put them on your agency’s webpage, talking about their involvement with the program. Employers like to see other employers talk about how things work.

Have a page. I believe every probation agency should have a page. Every program that works with justice-involved individuals in terms of meeting their employment needs, should have a webpage dedicated to employers which sells the benefits to employers that your program has to offer. That’s where a testimonial would work really well. Use a brief video. It’s not difficult to do. Upload it to YouTube and link it to the website, the employer talking about his experience with the program.

Leonard: Having a really strong social media component to this campaign would really help.

John: Not only will it help, I think it’s mandatory at this point in time. As more and more companies get involved with social media, more and more people are getting involved with social media, it’s the way to go. It’s inexpensive. You can reach a number of different people really very, very quickly.

Most recruiters nowadays, 90% of all recruiters are using LinkedIn to identify candidates for jobs. If you’re working to get somebody a long-term career opportunity, they need to have a LinkedIn profile, perhaps not for an entry-level job but for the future, for the jobs that really pay well, pay a sustainable wage, a client must have a LinkedIn profile if he or she is going to be found by a recruiter.

A page that’s dedicated to employers, we want to get the message to employers that we have a service to provide. We have benefits to provide. Here are the candidates that we have. One of the ways you advertise that, one of the ways you market that is through the web and having a page that employers can find. I’m urging programs, if you have literature, brochures describing the services that you have to offer to employers, use QR codes. You know what QR codes are, those little square boxes that you hold your smartphone to and then it automatically connects you to the webpage. I think every brochure that’s out there marketing programs like this to employers needs to have a QR code. The QR code should take them immediately to the webpage which describes the benefits that companies, probation, parole agencies have to offer. This way, they can quickly find out what services are available, what benefits are available, and how they can connect.

Leonard: Go ahead, please.

John: We basically just have to … Time is money for employers. We really need to, if we’re going to reach out to them, we have to be efficient in the way that we do it. If we’re going to give them information, they have to obtain it as quickly as possible.

Leonard: I’ve always been under the impression or the belief that what we should also do is to put up videos of the individual offenders themselves. I think they would be in the best position to describe their own skills and their own attributes. I’ve done a lot of interviews, again both on television and radio. We have stigmas. We have stereotypes of people who are under criminal justice supervision. Those stereotypes seem to melt and seem to disappear when somebody sees the individual in a coat and tie talking about the fact that he does have a good work history and talking about his skills, talking about who he is and what he is. I think that’s something that we in the criminal justice system should be doing, not only employers but the individual people under supervision themselves.

Francina: Absolutely. I think we need to show our success stories. We need to see people who have been the product, the beneficiaries of some of these training programs who have successfully entered the world of work, who are retaining employment, who are advancing on their jobs. Seeing those success stories, I think it speaks volumes. I think, like you said, it dispels some of the myths, some of the stereotypes about people who have a criminal record. They can serve as role models for other individuals who are just starting their path and just starting to get into the world of work. It’s almost, “If I see you … If you can do it, I can do it.” I think it’s very important to highlight our participants who have been successful.

Leonard: I’ve also talked, once again, to the people who are job developers here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. They tell me that the bias against people caught up in the criminal justice system is strong. The fact that they’ve had very employable individuals, people who there’s no reason, absolutely no reason for that person not to be employed. The person hasn’t had a drug-positive in a long time. The person hasn’t had any problems under supervision. The person has real skills from the past. We’ve even had people with college degrees under our supervision and yet the barrier to employment in terms of the stereotype of people who are caught up in the criminal justice system, they say it’s one of the most difficult things that they have to deal with. Either one of you want to comment on that?

John: It’s a challenge. It always will be a challenge. It has been a challenge. It’s improving, I think. What’s important is developing those relationships with employers. It takes time, understanding what their needs are, meeting their needs. Over time, you will build trust. That’s what it takes to work in this field. Nothing happens overnight. As I said, you approach the employer, you make a good impression the first time by listening to what they have to say, hearing what their needs are, meeting those needs. Over time, then people trust you. When people trust you, they’ll accept referrals. It’s all about trust but trust takes time to build. There’s no shortcuts to this.

Leonard: Go ahead, John.

John: You can prepare people well, obviously identifying all the barriers, doing the proper assessment, making sure that they’re ready for employment. One of the things that I always like to recommend, encourage the person coming out of prison to do some volunteer work, put that on their resume. Even if it’s only for a few hours a week, it’s something that shows the employer that they’re keeping busy while they’re searching for employment and that they’re contributing back to society. They’re doing something that’s positive. It always reflects well. It doesn’t matter who that person is. That goes for people that even aren’t ex-offenders that are looking for work above the age of fifty-five. Put something on your resume that shows that you’ve been active and that you’re contributing to your community. That will reflect well and that increases the odds that you will be called in for an interview.

Leonard: In terms of developing the relationship with the employers, again, I talked to our six workforce development people, our job developers, within Washington DC it’s almost impossible to reach out to every employer in Washington DC. In some cases, you may find “X” company is receptive in terms of that company’s executive but the branch offices may not be. Forming that bond, forming that relationship with all employers when you’ve got six people is almost impossible. Are we not talking about something larger in terms of engaging them, John? We were talking a little while ago about social media, talking about doing this systematically, it’s really hard to one-by-one-by-one to every employer within the metropolitan area to reach out to them personally.

Francina: I think a couple-

John: You could do things like, for example in St. Louis, the federal probation office developed a public service announcement video that was aired on TV. It actually featured the mayor of St. Louis and four probationers, federal probationers, who spoke to the camera about their success. That was Mayor Francis Slay. I believe the video is still out there on the internet, a simple thing that had ramifications city-wide.

Leonard: That’s a great idea. Francina?

Francina: A couple of things come to mind. One is the Ban the Box Initiative that is really taking hold in a lot of jurisdictions. What Ban the Box means is that a lot of cities and some jurisdictions are taking off that question about have you ever been convicted of a felony from the application. It doesn’t mean that the question can’t be asked later. All offenders should be rehearsed and prepared to be able to respond very directly to that question. At the same time, it moves it further along in the process, in the hiring process, so they get their foot in the door. They get to show who they are. They get to talk about their skills and their abilities and what they bring to the table.

The other important thing, I think, is a good job match, to make sure that the kinds of employment opportunities that are out there fit not just the individual’s interests and skills but also the criminal record so that there’s nothing that would prohibit them through any kind of statutory requirements or licensure requirements that would prohibit them from seeking that kind of employment, making sure that there’s a good job match in the kind of work that the candidates are going for.

Leonard: Final minutes of the program. Go ahead.

Francina: Those are just a couple of things that help a little bit to reduce that barrier. We talked about the success stories, even employers and their testimonials, breakfast, an awards breakfast for employers who have been successful in hiring and retaining individuals who have criminal record and telling their stories. All of these are ways that we start to mitigate that big barrier of having a criminal record.

Leonard: Okay. We also have tax credits and the bonding program, correct?

Francina: Absolutely.

Leonard: There are direct incentives for employers. Okay, final minute of the program. Bottom line behind all of this is that this is not an academic discussion, this is a public safety issue. This is a matter of putting people who are caught up in the criminal justice system into jobs, becoming taxpayers, not tax burdens, supporting their kids. Much rests upon this, correct?

Francina: Absolutely. We know that employment actually stabilizes people. If a person is in the community and he has employment or she has employment, they’re able to take care of their families. They’re able to pay their fines. They’re able to pay their taxes. They’re able to find housing. For any of us, employment really is a stabilizing factor in our lives so we are talking about public safety when we’re talking about employment.

Leonard: Our research shows that they do much better under supervision if they are employed. John, do you have any final wrap-up words, thirty seconds worth?

John: It’s not only the offenders that are being assisted but it’s their families. Many, as you know, a high percentage of the people coming out of prison that are on probation and parole have family members. If we can help them get back to work, their families will do better as well.

Leonard: It’s a fascinating conversation. Ladies and gentlemen, by our microphones today, via Skype, John Rakis. He is a consultant through the National Institute of Corrections. He’s a workforce development expert. Also, we had Francina Carter, correctional program specialist, program manager of the Offender Workforce Development. The documents that we mentioned today are available at www.nicic.gov, www.nicic.gov. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have yourselves a very pleasant day.

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