Every year, we celebrate Labor Day to honor the workers who keep our economy thriving. From factory employees to administrative assistants, construction workers to chefs, millions of Americans work tirelessly for their families each day. In doing so, they uphold the spirit of the American Dream. Yet for formerly incarcerated individuals, attaining that dream is met with tremendous obstacles.
Harmful stigmas make many employers unwilling to hire people with criminal records, further complicating the lives of those who have already been challenged by the justice system. In fact, according to Office of Justice Programs, having a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a callback or employment offer by nearly 50%. This obstacle is often coupled with a lack of access to higher education or necessary skills to be competitive in the workforce, such as resume writing and interviewing etiquette.
However, sustainable employment is crucial for leading a law-abiding life after incarceration. A person cannot be expected to pay for their everyday needs, become financially independent, or support their families without stable jobs.
For almost fifty years, The Fortune Society’s Employment Services program has been one of our most popular and necessary programs for those leaving prison. Through workshops and trainings, we address the hurdles to employment by matching qualified jobseekers to employers who have needs that match their experience and skill sets. We do this through a three-pronged approach, with our team of Facilitators, Career Advisors, and Account Managers helping clients along every step of their career pathways.
We first enroll all job seekers into a two week Job Readiness program, where we focus on “soft-skills” training such as developing confidence and skills for problem-solving, interviewing, and resume creation. Answering questions around one’s conviction can be intimidating, so we teach individuals to respond thoughtfully and professionally.
Clients are then eligible to apply for our intensive vocational training program, where they can choose from five different career tracks: Green Building Operations and Maintenance, Environmental Remediation, Transportation (Commercial Driver’s Licensing), Culinary Arts, and Job Developer Training.
By cultivating relationships with local businesses who understand that everyone deserves second chances, we can then connect clients to paid internships with industry employers through our Transitional Work Program. Those enrolled have a paid part-time working position for 10 weeks, where they gain hands-on experience needed to obtain permanent employment. In a recent cohort, over 75% of Transitional Work graduates went on to gain full time employment. People who did not graduate, often are referred to other services within The Fortune Society such as education classes, mental health services, or substance abuse treatment in an effort to become work-ready.
Our Employment Services program has been hugely successful—last year, Fortune helped 591 clients find jobs. Thanks to our services, these clients are now more capable of supporting themselves and have the skills and work experience they need to find higher-level employment in the future.
Our efforts have also helped dispel the myths against hiring individuals with justice involvement because our employers have consistently been satisfied with our clients’ and their work ethics. This shows that people with justice involvement are more than capable of contributing to America’s labor force—when given the opportunity.
This is why, on Labor Day, Fortune celebrates people with justice involvement who have worked hard to find employment despite the existing barriers and proven to be exemplary employees.