By Mike Jandernoa
From the smallest “mom and pop” shop to the largest international corporation, businesses across America are constantly looking for good employees. We want committed, engaging and creative individuals who can grow our organizations. We scour applications and resumes, trying to discern whether a potential employee will fulfill our needs and become an asset to our teams.
In the past, many employers would often not consider hiring people who had even minor criminal records. But as the former CEO of a 10,000-employee organization, I have one message for America: we can no longer exclude this vital component of our workforce.
An estimated one in three American adults has a criminal record of some kind. And about 600,000 people leave our nation’s prisons every year, looking to rejoin the workforce. While individuals in this group of workers won’t be right for every job, the right job is out there for everyone.
The benefits of boosting employment for those with criminal records are significant.
First, opening up opportunities to this population will make our country safer. Right now, almost 60 percent of individuals remain unemployed a year after being released from incarceration. It’s in our collective self-interest for them to get jobs, because steady employment is one of the best ways to ensure that individuals lead productive, crime-free lives. In one study of 6,000 returning citizens, employment cut the rate of those who committed a new crime in half.
Second, employers all across the country are suffering from a dearth of skilled labor. Every year, one major national bank surveys small businesses across this country. This year the survey found incredible optimism: 80 percent of employers said their business is stronger than ever; 40 percent said they plan to make a capital expenditure to grow their companies; and a quarter of those surveyed said they plan to hire more workers.
In West Michigan, most of the business leaders I know plan to expand their workforces. The downside? The businesses can’t find enough workers.
In fact, 61 percent of business owners reported extreme or moderate difficulty finding qualified employees. Adding to the challenge is the number of baby boomers retiring and a shortage of entry-level workers to fill all the vacancies that currently exist.
I’ve experienced this firsthand in West Michigan, where we’ve built one of the hottest job markets in the country. We’ve become one of the top places for growth and one of the best places to live. But our success has made it very difficult to find employees.
Our region is almost at full employment, so we must look for alternatives. We have a very strong manufacturing base, and these businesses are looking for people who will show up on time and test negative for drugs – that’s it. This opens the door for people who were formerly incarcerated and who are serious about turning their lives around.
This policy also allows these individuals to explain the circumstances of their offense, and show potential employers how they have turned their lives around.
Government jobs provide valuable training for private sector employment, so many private companies are asking their lawmakers to shift hiring processes for public sector jobs as well.
The West Michigan Policy Forum, made up of some of the state’s most influential business leaders, has ranked criminal justice reform as one of the five top “pro-business” policy priorities