In Philly, new Koch-backed initiative encourages businesses to hire ex-offenders

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By Ayana Jones

PHILADELPHIA — A new effort is underway to encourage companies to employ ex-offenders at a time when one in three American adults has a criminal record.

Koch Industries has partnered with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) on the Getting Talent Back to Work Initiative, where businesses pledge to hire ex-offenders.

“The reality is right now we have over 7 million jobs open,” said Jenny Kim, general counsel of Koch Industries.

“We don’t have enough people in the labor force and we have to figure out how a way to close the gap. We also need to be more diverse and inclusive and we have to think about other populations that we may not have thought about as part of the talent management pipeline.”

The push to encourage employers to be more inclusive comes as more than 2 million people are in prison, while 4 million are on probation and parole.

“We have to figure out how we keep folks successful and from recidivating and going back to prison or even jail and part of that is a job and that is what the Getting Talent Back to Work initiative is about,” Kim said.

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More than 2,000 individuals and businesses have signed on the program. The majority of the participating businesses are the Midwest and Southern states, however organizers hope that the momentum spreads throughout the country.

The Getting Talent Back to Work initiative offers businesses guidelines for what to consider in terms of hiring ex-offenders and pairs them with other firms that have successfully gone through the process.

Kim said hiring people with criminal records increases public safety and makes good business sense.

“In not considering people with criminal records as part of the workforce, potentially the economy loses somewhere between $70 [million] and $80 million per year and it affects productivity,” she said.

“It also affects communities and families and it’s been such that a job is a way to break that cycle of intergenerational poverty.”

The initiative comes as a Philadelphia program that incentivizes local companies to employ people who were formerly incarcerated is also underway. Employers can apply for reimbursements from the city’s Fair Chance Hiring Initiative when they hire people who have been released from incarceration within the last five years.

The program is overseen by Heloise Jettison, senior director of business engagement for the Philadelphia Department of Commerce.

“We’ve had very good results and we’re making the difference in the lives of people who just want to work,” Jettison said.

The city implemented its initiative in July 2017. To date, 60 participating businesses have hired approximately 110 people. Through the pilot program, employers are reimbursed $5 per hour for each qualified position, up to 40 hours a week with a maximum of 1,000 hours per position annually. Job candidates are recruited and screened by PA CareerLink, OIC of America and the Office of Reintegration Services (RISE).

“We really wanted to give an opportunity to medium and smaller businesses who are more apt to be more open to hiring diversely and what they need is some of sourcing lift taken off of their shoulders,” Jettison said.

“We’re able to provide a way to give them more candidates to fill the positions, to help the communities because you’ve got a great potential employee in someone that wants to work, is eager to work and needs to work because they are ready to move on and get their life on track.”

Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.