Don’t Look Over the Potentially Great Talent in Ex-Offenders

Last week we began to explore an episode of our HR Works podcast where Managing Editor Steve Bruce and Recruiting and HR expert Arte Nathan discussed a number of recruiting topics, including “ex-offenders.” This week we’ll continue with the rest of the podcast and see exactly what Nathan has to say about hiring ex-offenders. If you would like, feel free to listen to this episode (number 28) on our HR Works podcast.

Steve Bruce: So, the ex-offenders they might turn out to be your best applicants, and you’re recommending that employers hook up with support services that that will help their success rate in hiring.
Arte Nathan: Yes, being frank about this if people were to hire an ex-drug addict or alcoholic most [likely] would encourage them to continue with Alcoholics Anonymous or programs like that. That’s a support system. Nonprofits like Hope for Prisoners has looked at those kinds of programs and seen that their greatest success comes with the mentors. The people that stand by them and are there to help them and answer questions for them or answer questions for their perspective employers. When that happens, companies get a great deal of support in making sure that their new hires are successful.
As a recruiter as a chief human resources officer, I used to look at the number of people who turned over in the first 30 or 90 days. We spend a lot of time and money and energy recruiting and onboarding and training and getting people up to speed, but if there isn’t sufficient support to calm them down and get them more attached to the new organization, your chance of turnover goes up. I just think that what Hope for Prisoners does for organizations like ours … providing these mentors is a great assist, and that’s why this group of people turns out to be so extraordinarily successful in employment.
Now, the other question that people get around to asking as they learn more about this is: What’s the rate of recidivism? You know, the number of people [who] go back to jail who’ve gotten out is in the high 70% rate. It’s a staggering number, and it’s a problem for society and communities and families. Programs like Hope for Prisoners, the recidivist rate is 6%. It all has to do with this long-term mentoring. Recidivism, or the number of drug addicts who fall off the wagon or alcoholics who fall off the wagon, goes up dramatically if they don’t have a support system in place. This is not much different. It’s just that most of us, in our mind’s eye, think of ex-offenders, and we get scared because we don’t know much about them or life in that world. You find out more and more that this group of people can be very … good for employment. I think it’s about 45% of the people in jail are there for nonviolent crimes. Drug crimes, DUIs, all kinds of crazy things. You don’t have to worry about them being violent or stealing or something like that.
Anybody who gets out of jail who’s earned that second chance [and] who wants that second chance—they are highly motivated. If the system is in place to help them [to] keep continuing down that path and making the most of that second chance, [he or she] can be a great new employee. This is, I think, a new frontier for computers.
Steve Bruce: Well, it’s great work that you’re doing there with Hope for Prisoners, and I think that’s a great idea for every hiring manger. Earlier, you mentioned people with disabilities and military coming off active duty. Have you had experience with hiring people from those groups?
Arte Nathan: Yes, I do. We think sometimes that people with disabilities may not be able to do the job as we’re looking at it. I think the law may be asking for reasonable accommodations has shown us all that there’s far more opportunity than we might ever expect. I hired a fellow who was visually impaired. He had retinitis pigmentosa, and he wanted to be in the front office in the room reservations area, and he told us about software that would help and the managers were afraid because they didn’t have any experience with this. I think that the advocate groups that support the disabled are there to help mangers understand the opportunities. This young guy, he didn’t have sight, he wasn’t looking around, he wasn’t paying attention to anything but his work, and he was three times more productive, we found, than other people in the room. The hiring manger came back to me and said I hope you have more of those kinds of people. I think that the disabled are great.
I think that the veterans today are a great group of applicants that we have to take advantage of, but we have to understand their background. We have to understand what they bring to the job and what experiences they’ve had in the past and how we can integrate them and support them as they get into the world of work that’s nonmilitary. I know that there’s a lot of companies have done a great job with this, and some have challenges with it because, again, their managers may not be aware of how to get the most motivation out of any one of these groups of alternate recruits—not just veterans. I think training for managers—training for hiring managers—is available, and companies should take full advantage of that. It’s not that managers know how to situationally manage best. If we don’t provide them with those skills and that understanding, I think that we do them a disservice and the potential employees a disservice.
Steve Bruce: Well this is great. I think this is very helpful for everybody. I want to move one step further along the process now. Doing a great job of hiring doesn’t mean much if you don’t retain a new employee. Let’s talk a little bit … Do you have tips for people about how to work on long-term engagement and retention?
Arte Nathan: Two things that I’ve always advocated and were very successful for the companies that I worked in: You have to catch people doing things right. I think most managers spend a great deal of time compliance-oriented, looking and reacting to things that might be not quite right or wrong. We have to spend our energy doing that, but we also have to balance that out with catching people doing things right. If we do that more often … those behaviors become the ones that we reinforce, and people respond to that. I think that’s very important when you’re looking at retention and morale.
I think the other thing that works for me and is very important [in] explaining why. I think that people, certainly adults, need to understand why, need to understand the context of things. We just can’t give them instructions. I’m old enough to remember when people never question[ed] anything. That may or may not have been a better time, but certainly today, not that they question so much, but they really want to understand the context of things. Managers have to be encouraged to do that. I think managers have to be more skilled and maybe better trained at communication, at coaching, and those are the things that help people to feel better about where they’re working, better about themselves, and if they have those things and they trust the organization, and if they trust the organization and their managers, chances are they’ll stick around. That helps retention.
I think engagement comes most from asking people [for] their input. Tell me what you think. Tell me how can we be better. Give me your feedback. I’m not sure that companies maximize their opportunities in that regard. That’s a kind of engagement because people now feel like they matter. Like what they say or what they do or what they think is important. That’s highly critical to them and their engagement. Everybody’s worried about Millennials today, but Millennials just want to be heard. Millennials want to be engaged, so you have to create that environment where they can be. You can’t be afraid of them getting more and more engaged. That challenge is the whole notion of what’s the role of a manger or a supervisor. I think where before it was instructing and supervising. I think today it’s becoming more the role of a coach. If you do good training when people start their jobs, if you explain things adequately to them, I think the role of coach is better for the organization—certainly better for the employees—and ultimately, those managers and supervisors who are proficient at it like their jobs more and feel like they’re more productive.
Steve Bruce: Those are great tips. Catch people doing something right. I wrote that down; I like that a lot.
Tomorrow we’ll look at some tips from Nathan on onboarding.
HR Works is our very own podcast run by the managing editor of®, Chris Ceplenski.

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