Meaningful Business (MB:) When did you begin advocating for fair hiring practices?
Jeffrey Korzenik (JK): This was a gradual process, and all driven by my professional need to understand critical economic trends. Around 2013-2014 there was a big focus on how people were “missing” from the labor force and how that was limiting U.S. growth. I focused on the “why”, and quickly came to understand that social ills were impacting the labour force and economy in ways we hadn’t seen since World War II: long-term unemployment, the opioid epidemic and the incarceration recidivism cycle.
So, I understood the problem. I got a glimpse of the solution when I enjoyed a meal at the King’s Kitchen in Charlotte, North Carolina, and then was introduced to the North Lawndale Employment Network, both nonprofits. That led me to meet with Dan Meyer and the amazing work he has done at Nehemiah Manufacturing, and I knew a business solution existed that would serve the company’s we banked and the communities we serve – what better role for a banker than that?
MB: Why is it so crucial that businesses get involved in second-chance hiring?
JK: Ultimately, employment is foundational to giving people with records the chance to rebuild their lives, so the businesses need to be involved. Nonprofits and government bring unique and valuable skills to this societal problem, but job creation is the expertise of the private sector. It is in the business community’s interests as well – declining birth rates threaten labour force growth, a key component of economic growth, so the solution is to make sure we waste no human resources, and provide pathways for everyone to be contributing members of society.
It’s also important because employees and customers increasingly expect the companies with which they work to be part of solving societal problems. Finally, for various reasons, the ability of the free enterprise system to deliver the kind of society we want is being called into question, and the business community has a vested interest in showing that capitalism is very much part of building a better country.
MB: What are some of the biggest barriers that people with criminal records face?
JK: There are of course the hard barriers – there are more than 40,000 “collateral consequences” in the U.S., codified restrictions regarding employment, professional licensing, housing, and even rights enjoyed unrestricted by other citizens. But I think the real issue is the stigma that somehow people with criminal records are “bad” people, forever defined by a mistake of the past. If we could get past that judgement, I think we’d have fewer collateral consequences and a better criminal justice system.
MB: What inspired you to write your new book, ‘Untapped Talent’, and what is its critical message?
JK: I’m very committed to getting the word out that second chance/fair chance hiring is a viable and important talent pipeline. In 2019, I took 141 different flights – and simply couldn’t travel more to spread the word! I also realised that interested business leaders needed more in-depth guidance than I could provide through the articles I wrote, the speeches I delivered, or the panel discussions I led. Writing the book, as big an undertaking as it was, was a way to leverage my time, my knowledge, and especially the incredible lessons of the second chance employers whom I studied.
MB: Why do you think employers are reluctant to hire people with criminal records?
JK: There are three main concerns: 1) safety/liability, 2) quality of work, and 3) reputation. I would say to employers that there is validity in all these concerns, but like any other risk in business, this can be controlled or managed very successfully. It just requires a process to work right. I never gloss over these concerns but address them head on and put them in a reasonable context.
MB: Why should businesses be involved in providing meaningful second chances to justice impacted individuals?
JK: As far as I’m concerned, businesses should do this because it is profitable to do so, period. This is business, not charity. Those that seize the opportunity to learn how to access this talent pool will have a decided competitive advantage over those that don’t. Demographics dictate that there is a multi-decade war for talent ahead of us, and second chance hiring is part of a winning strategy.
MB: What is the one thing you would most want people to take away from ‘Untapped Talent’?
JK: While requiring an investment, second chance hiring done right is an important talent strategy that delivers a highly engaged, loyal workforce. I hope they appreciate the incredible business pioneers who invested so much and risked so much so others can learn from their example.
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