“If everything was defined by your worst day, how would that impact your life?” Economic Developmnent Project Manager April Brown moderated a panel discussion last week at the WNC Human Resources Association on hiring people with a criminal record or disability. The panel included: J Hackett of Trimm Foundation, Anthony Thomas with UpStaff, Vanessa James with NC Department of Commerce, Philip Cooper with UpSkill WNC, Marc Roberts with Liberty Corner Enterprises, Lauren Rash of Diamond Brand Gear and Alex Matisse of East Fork Pottery.
“With 26,000 job openings anticipated in the next three years, finding talent is a necessity, and one way to address that need is by opening the talent pool and diversifying the tools businesses use to find talent,” Brown said. With an estimated one in three people having a criminal background and 10 million Americans with disabilities, if these populations are overlooked as potential employees, opportunities can be missed both for employers in fulfilling talent needs and for individuals looking for meaningful work. Statistics also show that when a person is employed they are three times less likely to commit another crime.
The panel discussed common myths related to hiring people with a criminal record or disability. For example, companies may think in order to hire people with disabilities or background that they need to lower their standards. The panel pointed out that organizations like theirs offer a team of support and training to assist people with barriers to employment to help them be more successful. Programs like UpSkill help identify needs and try to tackle those prior to someone seeking employment by offering training, peer support and connections to other resources.
Another myth is that people with a criminal record or disability might not be a cultural fit. Alex Matisse of East Fork Pottery said as their company grew, they made a conscious effort to expand their hiring pool. There have been some awkward moments but by building true relationships things have slowly started to change and the benefit of having a more diverse workforce and welcoming culture is worth it.
Audience members asked how they could help hiring managers get past their fear of hiring someone with a background for a variety of reasons. “Fear is normal,” J Hackett of Trimm Foundation said. “Acknowledge it and be willing to lean into it. Lean into it, embrace it and get over it.” He noted community partners working with these populations can offer support and resources. Several panel members also said engaging people face to face is key and educating both yourself as a hiring manager or your workforce can help dispel myths and create a supportive culture.
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