Nonprofits’ pilot helps reentering citizens

The Job Post is working with at least 10 employers to hire ex-offenders.
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Guiding Light’s talent placement firm, The Job Post, and Goodwill of Greater Grand Rapids launched a pilot program intended to help ex-offenders look beyond a jail or prison record through successful employment.

While Goodwill has provided offender reentry programs for more than 25 years, this is the first dedicated pilot with a staffing agency like The Job Post because, like Goodwill, it’s mission-based. Both organizations provide complementary services that provide the support needed to find a job, stay employed and reduce the rate of incarceration recidivism.

The jobs are primarily in manufacturing, with a smattering in construction, with wages starting at $15 per hour.

The Job Post finds jobs with companies that not only pay a living wage but also are willing to provide the extra support needed so those with criminal convictions find workplace success.

Guiding Light also provides help with personal protective equipment, such as steel-toed boots, and transportation, which can be barriers to finding and keeping a good job. Additional support also can include bus passes or other transportation vouchers and other personal protective equipment and related items that might prevent someone from hiring on.

“We keep track of all the employees,” said April Harrell, director of organizational leadership and development for The Job Post. “We offer career coaching. A lot of retention programs will get them the job, but are they checking in on them, making sure they aren’t going off the grind? A lot of times offenders get a job and just quit. Between Goodwill and The Job Post, we continue to motivate and keep the offender on track more. It’s more relationship building rather than, ‘Oh, I’m a felon and I need a job.’”

Goodwill’s holistic approach in its employment methods includes pairing ex-offenders — the nonprofit refers to them as participants — with a career coach who provides a variety of vocation support services including assessments to determine skills, interests and job readiness. Additional help includes interview practice, resume design, job search assistance and retention support, as well as wrap-around services to address the emotional, psychological, social and other needs for participants.

Once a Goodwill career coach refers participants to The Job Post, Harrell and her team begin to identify employment opportunities with manufacturing companies that are a good match for participants.

Joyce Fenske. Courtesy Goodwill of Greater Grand Rapids

“We do address the whole person to ensure a satisfying life,” said Joyce Fenske, Goodwill’s workforce development manager. “For those who’ve been in prison a long time, it’s a lot to take in, especially when your life has been structured (in prison). They’re not used to that day-to-day routine (of work) and it’s quite stressful to start getting used to that.”

Fenske said she would gauge if the reentry program moves beyond the pilot stage when she sees how successful the placed participants are with their jobs.

“We have a year of follow-up from that first year of employment,” she said. ‘Ideally that will be a good fit, but if it isn’t, we’ll help that person find a better fit. But in order for that to happen, our career coaches have to have a really good relationship with that employer and that employer is welcoming our participant so they can maintain that job, which helps them with their turnover rate. Hopefully, this will help with retention.”

High-pressure die casting manufacturer Auto Cast Inc. in Grandville is one of about 10 employers working with The Job Post and offender reentry programs. Human resources manager Ralph Peterson has three participants who’ve recently hired-on with Auto Cast. He’s impressed with the program so far and is interested in hiring other participants in the months ahead.

“I’ve had different people around me who had been in prison and paid their debt to society, and they always had that stigma,” Peterson said. “I wanted to reach out and help as many people as possible because they have paid their debt to society.

“We have a nice family atmosphere (at Auto Cast). I feel like people who have been through the system and are trying to turn their life around, and if they are more than willing to work with me, I’m more than willing to work with them because I feel like that bond and connection would help our company.”

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