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Organizational Change
Corporate Leaders:
Solve Hiring Needs by Embracing Second-Chance Employment

Whether you’re looking at this from a business case or human case perspective, it’s on us to shift the narrative around second-chance hiring and give people a fresh start and an honest chance at economic mobility.

One year after the Biden Administration’s 2022 proclamation marked April as Second-Chance Month — reaffirming the importance of helping people who were formerly incarcerated reenter society — second-chance hiring remains a blind spot for many companies still searching to fill open roles, expand DE&I efforts and meet a looming skills gap in their industries.

Right now, there are 11 million jobs open in the US yet approximately six million unemployed workers — emphasizing the skills gap across industries as human resources departments look to fill key roles within their organizations. With an estimated 70 million people in the US with arrest or conviction records — roughly one out of every three adults — there’s a significant pool of untapped talent who are eager to rejoin the workforce while utilizing and growing their skillsets. However, research shows a justice-involved record can reduce the chances of a second interview by 50 percent. This is where corporate leaders must rise to the occasion and help evolve the archaic narrative surrounding second-chance hires to erase the stigma.

In the past few years, we have seen an inspiring wave of industry peers including Ben & Jerry’s, Chobani, Dave’s Killer Bread, Greyston Bakery and US Rubber Recycling challenging the status quo as to who should be considered an “ideal candidate.” But there’s more that can be done; and at Frontier Co-op, we’ve set the precedent that a checked box on a job application shouldn’t be a barrier to someone’s chance to earn a living.

In our home state of Iowa, 4,281 people were released from prison in 2022; but most Iowa businesses are still hesitant to employ returning citizens. Justice-involved citizens face a myriad of barriers; and access to employment and other resources to regain economic stability and mobility can not only be life-changing for them personally, but also better for our society as a whole.

This belief was the genesis of our award-winning Breaking Down Barriers to Employment initiative, which was implemented in 2018 to offer a holistic approach to address barriers employees and the wider community face to personal stability, and economic mobility.

Through our collaborative partnership with Willis Dady Homeless Services, we’ve expanded beyond second-chance hiring and have seen a tangible impact in both our community and our organizations, including:

  • solving a lingering hiring gap by hiring 20 percent of Frontier Co-op’s production employees through our partnership since the program’s inception, including more than 60 formerly incarcerated employees and a number of individuals struggling with homelessness;
  • accepting over 380 individuals into our skills-training apprenticeship program, offering tools and resources they need to be successful both within the company, industry and elsewhere in the community; and
  • helping reduce the rate of homelessness for participating Willis Dady clients by 50 percent in 2022 after being employed with Frontier Co-op.

Businesses can have an even greater impact both within their company and in their greater communities by partnering with local, boots-on-the-ground organizations. In most communities, these organizations are already working to provide important support services to people who are ready, willing and able to work, but who struggle to access basic human rights such as food security and safe housing due to unemployment. Business leaders should listen to and learn from these community partners about how their companies can step up to help solve the needs of current and potential employees, while creating pathways to economic mobility. These opportunities can provide skilled workers with a steady income, help them gain or maintain safe housing, provide for their basic needs, and achieve the level of stability that’s vital to escaping the cycle of homelessness and recidivism.

Foundational programs that provide opportunities to justice-involved populations are not one-size-fits-all. They can and should be unique to each company and community based on their specific challenges, industry and opportunities. But businesses can start by reaching out and supporting local organizations that are already working to empower these communities to build a new future. Whether you’re looking at this from a business case or human case perspective, it’s on us to shift the narrative around second-chance hiring and give people a fresh start and an honest chance at economic mobility.