Battling the labor shortage with second-chance hiring

Second-chance hiring has become a powerful driver of positive change within companies, with far-reaching benefits beyond the bottom line.

It seems there is an ever-increasing number of unfilled positions, as the ongoing labor shortage has steadily persisted since the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, in the United States alone there are almost 9.8 million job openings, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In addition, many workers are leaving their jobs or remaining unemployed for a multitude of reasons such as early retirement, the search for better opportunities, increased entrepreneurship, less access to childcare and more. Experts say second-chance hiring can be a pivotal solution. 

“Companies are still saying that they can’t find people to work, or they can’t find people that are willing to work, or that they can’t find people that fit the qualifications to do the job,” says Anthony Glover, Perseverance’s Tennessee employment coordinator and technology employment specialist. “Second-chance hiring is important because companies are completely overlooking an entire talent pool of people.” 

What is second-chance hiring? 

Second-chance hiring, or fair-chance hiring, provides opportunities for employment to individuals who have been previously incarcerated or have a criminal record. This means looking at potential hires on a case-by-case basis by reviewing skills, experiences, potential and more. 

“It’s where companies are willing to not just see the individual for what they’ve done in the past, but actually, see that person for the work that they put in to move beyond their past,” says Glover. “So when we see them, for who they work to become, and not just for what they used to be, it becomes hugely advantageous to any organization.”

Recent studies show that one in three Americans have a criminal record – nearly 77 million individuals. Further, almost 600,000 people are released from incarceration every year in the U.S. The same studies show that more than 60 percent of people with criminal records remain jobless from the time of release to four years after, which is exponentially more than the peak general U.S. unemployment rate in 2020 (15 percent). Second-chance hiring programs provide an opportunity for talent leaders to encourage and support these individuals.

“That’s a whole population of individuals that the employers in this country can look to for employment,” says Caz Walcott, director of inclusive hiring at RBIJ. “There are many employers that have vacancies that need to be filled, so they’re missing out on encouraging those individuals that do have criminal records to apply to those positions.” 

Often, employment for previously incarcerated people is limited to sporadic, part-time or minimum wage jobs. In fact, studies find that those who find employment after release earn less than the general population. After a four-year period of irregular employment, previously incarcerated individuals make less than 84 cents for every dollar of the U.S. median wage. 

“To overcome this, we work with employers who go the extra mile, offering only full-time jobs with competitive pay and benefits,” says James Jackson, director of communications and technology at Cornbread Hustle. “We believe offering a part-time, low-wage job is simply not enough to help returned citizens get back on their feet and rebuild their lives in a positive manner.”

Not an empathetic movement

In addition to filling job vacancies, there are numerous benefits for companies when talent leaders implement second-chance hiring programs. Data shows that 85 percent of HR leaders and 81 percent of business leaders believe employees who have been given a second-chance are often the same as or better than existing employees. Additionally, these employees ranked high between HR and business leaders for dependability, potential for promotion and job retention. Companies also experience lower turnover rates when hiring qualified individuals with criminal records. 

“It’s not an empathetic movement,” says Glover. “This is about being able to recognize that there’s an entire population of people out there that are not getting opportunities that are ready to work, that can work. And when they come into your company, they’re going to change the culture and the way that things are seen, because they’re glad to be there.”

Furthermore, implementing second-chance hiring is an opportunity for companies to advance their diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging goals. Often, having different perspectives and backgrounds in a workplace changes the workplace culture. Inclusivity and openness benefit the organization. Research shows companies who have ensured second-chance hiring practices have seen more loyalty and engagement from their entire workforce. Moreover, due to racial inequities, people of color are more likely to be incarcerated. Providing these opportunities opens the door to many people, which can help reflect the United States’ diverse population in a company’s talent pool. 

“Diversity, equity and inclusion doesn’t just change things in the company, it changes the culture in the community,” says Glover. “If we leave out these stories and these experiences, we shut off the lens of how they’ve seen the world. It stops us from growing. DEI is about us being able to grow together.” 

While employers and companies benefit from second-chance hiring, individuals and communities benefit as well. According to a Bureau of Justice study, 82 percent of individuals will be arrested again within 10 years after their release, which is known as recidivism. However, employment to stable and quality jobs often reduces the likelihood of recidivism over time. Second-chance hiring also helps stabilize individuals and local economies, as it breaks the cycle of poverty, economic hardships and further incarceration.  

“From an employer standpoint, you are diversifying your workforce and adding dedicated, loyal talent that will make your company stronger and more efficient in the long run,” says Jackson. “You’re also helping make your community safer through reduced recidivism and creating generational change for your second-chance hired employees and their families.”  

Battling misconceptions

Barriers to second-chance hiring can include insurance restrictions, company policies, certain occupational licenses needed, workplace culture and more. One of the most prominent issues is the misconception of individuals who have been incarcerated. The public often has a negative view of incarceration, and this translates into application processes and company policies. 

“The most-common misconceptions we encounter with employers stem from misunderstandings of the way criminal charges are listed on a potential employee’s background check,” says Jackson. “Often, the title of the criminal charge does not tell the whole story. For example, the charge ‘Terroristic Threat’ might sound like someone conspired with terrorists. In fact, it simply means someone threatened violence against another person or their property. Shouting ‘I’m going to beat you up!’ could be considered an illegal ‘terroristic threat’ in some circumstances.” 

This also comes down to the education companies have on second-chance hiring and how it can fit into their organization. Before implementing a second-chance hiring program or policy, research needs to be done by opening a discussion with organizations that have programs, looking into similar program structures, researching company policies and culture, figuring out hurdles and limitations and more. 

“It’s the unknown; if these employees have not branched out to second-chance hiring and fair-chance hiring, it’s unknown for them,” says Walcott. “There might be an issue of trust of not knowing the process, not understanding that the individuals who may have a criminal conviction or touches with the criminal justice system have a lot to bring to their companies. They may not understand that there’s research out there that the retention rates are higher amongst individuals who have a criminal conviction.” 

Experts agree talent leaders should use a top-down approach, championing second-chance hiring and setting the examples and expectations for existing employees. 

“Second-chance hiring won’t work if it’s not a leadership decision, if the leadership doesn’t see the value in it and doesn’t support the effort,” says Glover. “They have to put together a list of reasons as to why they think the initiative will benefit their company. There has to be a business decision. It’s not just an emotional or ethical decision. It’s about how it’s going to help your company.”

As DEIB programs gain broader recognition and acceptance, second-chance hiring initiatives are becoming increasingly prevalent among companies. Abby Diebold, communications director of RBIJ says talent leaders must hold a broad belief in second-chances. 

“You have to believe that everybody is more than their worst mistake or that everybody is more than one thing that they’ve done,” says Diebold. “Beyond sort of all of the technical aspects, that’s really a broad mindset shift that businesses are starting to take.”