The past few years have uprooted the status quo for contingent workforce managers and their programs. Today’s challenges require new approaches, strategies and attitudes for success. From finding workers (industrial and warehouse-type labor in particular) to bolstering DE&I metrics to building a brand recognized for having a positive impact in its community and a commitment to social justice, integrating fair chance hiring into your contingent workforce program now warrants a second look.

Employing those impacted by the justice system, recovering from addiction or facing similar challenges that often eliminate them from hiring consideration opens up a large, untapped pool of potential workers.

An Untapped Talent Pool

More than 80 million Americans — one-quarter of the population — have a criminal record, according to the Second Chance Business Coalition, a cross-sector coalition of large private-sector companies committed to expanding second-chance hiring and advancement practices within their companies. Launched in April 2021 with 29 original members, SCBC has grown to 45 member companies with more preparing to join.

Many of the members are struggling to find workers and have hit a “crisis point,” according to Wendi Safstrom, president of the SHRM Foundation, a founding partner of SCBC. “I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve seen such an uptick in interest,” she says. “I think people have an understanding and appreciation and an interest in the kind of life and lived experiences that these folks bring to the table.”

These employers have found that their fair chance hires often outperform other hires. According to 2021 research from the SHRM Foundation, 85% of human resource and 81% of business leaders report that individuals with criminal records perform the same as or better than employees without criminal records.

Daryn Forgeron, marketing director at Working Fields, a fair chance staffing provider headquartered in in Vermont, noticed employers turned to this “untapped population” during the pandemic, when workers were scarce and organizations were unable to find candidates through other mechanisms.

“You can always find people from these populations because unemployment might be 3% for the general population and 27% for people coming out of incarceration,” Forgeron explains. “I mean, you’re going to find people.” She is also quick to note that these candidates are often more honest, transparent and likely to stick with a job.

“They’re grateful for the opportunity,” she says.

Financial Incentives

While fair chance programs provide access to workers, they can also offer financial advantages. The federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit gives employers who hire a qualified ex-felon a tax credit of up to 25% of the worker’s first year’s wages if the employee works at least 120 hours and 40% if they work over 400 hours.

In addition, the US Department of Labor established the Federal Bonding Program to provide fidelity bonds for “at-risk,” hard-to-place job seekers. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, the bonds protect employers against employee fraud or dishonesty in the first six months of employment at no cost to the job applicant or the employer.

Culture Improvement

Bringing justice-impacted workers onto your team necessitates not only C-suite approval, but also acceptance by direct supervisors and co-workers. This may require an honest appraisal of your company culture and values — and that can be a good thing. Is your organization really as accepting and supportive as it claims? Implementing a fair chance program can require making your actions reflect your mission statement.

Such programs help advance diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Research shows that one in three Black men have a felony conviction, so encouraging hiring justice-impacted individuals is arguably an effective way to increase diversity and invest in underserved communities.

A Fundamental Change

Implementing a successful fair chance hiring program is not a simple task. It takes work on company culture, policies and processes. Marginalized people are often left out of the employment equation due to screenings and application systems.

“People are afraid to ask questions,” SCBC’s Safstrom says. “They’re not sure if the questions they’re asking are appropriate and or perhaps even legal. So, we have to demystify a lot of that and really encourage HR professionals and hiring managers to ask questions, encourage people to share their stories and create a culture and an environment that welcomes folks.”

Look for part two in next week’s issue of CWS 3.0, which will address challenges and obstacles programs might encounter and suggest solutions to overcome them.