The Hiring Crunch Sheds New Light on Overlooked Populations
With the United States’ unemployment rate at 3.6% and the challenges of a lean employable workforce, some previously overlooked populations are now getting attention, including people in recovery from substance use disorder and people who have previously been incarcerated.
Consider the numbers. In the U.S., there are an estimated 23.5 million adults in recovery from substance use disorder and 5 million people who were formerly incarcerated (with considerable overlap in these groups of people). The advent of resources and systems to accommodate working with the unique characteristics of these populations can be a source of confidence and protection for employers. Additionally, research indicates individuals in these populations have lower turnover and are more loyal to their employers than other employees.
It’s no wonder that state and federally funded initiatives (e.g., RecoveryOhio, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, the Ohio BWC’s Substance Use Recovery and Workplace Safety Program and grants from the U.S. Department of Labor) are focused on motivating and arming employers with resources to explore hiring people in these populations. But once an employer or system is conceptually onboard to embrace these untapped labor pools, a critical element is needed: the establishment of a functional workplace system that positions employers for success. For while employers may be interested and committed to this approach, many are unsure how to proceed in a safe, smart way.
Here are three foundational actions for employers committed to hiring formerly incarcerated individuals or individuals in recovery:
- Receiving education to reduce stigma and stereotypes – People in these populations are often misunderstood and marginalized. However, education breeds understanding and sensitization, which evolves into supportive work relationships. When employers and employees understand that substance use disorder is a treatable, behavioral-related medical condition, along similar lines of other treatable, behavioral-related conditions like diabetes or heart disease (instead of a moral weakness), it can help reframe attitudes, perceptions and behaviors toward those in recovery.
- Accommodating unique realities and needs – With a foundation of knowledge and education on the unique realities of these populations, employers can establish legally sound and responsible organizational policies and practices. Often called second chance policies, they work to establish practices that account for the needs of both the new employee and the employer assuring success.
- The Society for Human Resource Management’s “Getting Talent Back to Work” employer toolkit also suggests individualizing the onboarding process vs. a one-size fits all approach for formerly incarcerated employees. For example, an employer can set expectations by exercising their right to request verification from a parole officer to confirm an employee’s appointment. Similarly, conversations with a new employee in recovery can set expectations on time off needed to see a counselor or attend a support meeting.
- A valuable, practical resource to have in place for all employees is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Actively promoting an EAP to employees as a resource for their personal challenges can significantly eliminate the time and energy employers sometimes spend triaging situations and hunting down solutions. Employers typically receive a return on investment of more than $3 for every dollar invested in an EAP.
- Identifying, recruiting and selecting – As with all candidates, the interview and selection process must be legal, fair and focused on the candidate’s ability to perform the required job duties. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers guidance on pre-employment inquiries around criminal backgrounds, disabilities or medical conditions.Additionally, there are a number of resources for employers specifically looking for individuals in either of these populations who are ready to join the workforce including
- Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction’s list of individuals granted CQEs (Certificate of Qualification for Employment) after a rigorous review process. A CQE also provides protection for employers against negligent hiring claims.
- Community Behavioral Health Boards (e.g., Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services [ADAMH] Boards) may be able to connect employers with local treatment facilities and recovery support providers who could, in turn, post job openings or connect clients with recovery-friendly workplaces.
Arming and motivating employers with knowledge, education, tools and resources is an essential precursor to success in hiring previously overlooked populations. Simultaneously, qualified and productive employees will be connected with employers. It can really be a win-win situation, so long as it is entered into with sufficient awareness and preparation.
Check out our Hiring Crunch infographic on this issue.