In the current economy, many employers are unable to find qualified employees to fill jobs, even though a National Institute of Justice survey revealed that between 60 and 75 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals are jobless up to a year after release. By holding events like the Employment Empowerment Event this fall, Cornell ILR’s Criminal Justice and Employment Initiative (CJEI) is helping to bring together employers and individuals with criminal records.
CJEI based its event in Manhattan to increase employment opportunities for people with criminal records, provide knowledge about employment rights, and help employers expand their applicant pool. CJEI partnered with the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the NYS Department of Labor, and M.A.D.E. Transitional Services to connect qualified job seekers with criminal justice involvement to employers who are ready to hire.
Executive Assistant District Attorney Chauncey Parker, in his keynote address, stressed the commitment of Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. to hiring individuals with criminal records and encouraging employers to support this important initiative. Other guest speakers emphasized the benefits of hiring people with criminal records.
Employers who attended overwhelmingly agreed that the greatest advantage to hiring someone with a criminal record is gaining a motivated and capable employee for their organization. Calvin Parson, BJ’s Wholesale Regional Human Resources Business Partner, hired an individual who attended the event and said, “These are great guys that really want to work. We are serious about matching people with the appropriate jobs to fill these positions.”
Vladimir Gonzalez, Recruitment Manager for international fresh food chain Pret A Manger, set up first round interviews for job seekers. Gonzalez said, “We are hosting a recruitment event on Saturday. We invited a few candidates to come for 10-minute first level interviews with Pret general managers.” Restaurants, like City Island in Harlem, also set up interviews for job seekers on the spot. One participant on parole stated, “There is no job too big or too small. City Island…arranged for me to meet with a cook this Saturday.”
In addition to meeting with employers at the event, job seekers received training from CJEI staff and Judge Milton Tingling about Ban the Box, New York Correction Law Article 23-A, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and Certificates of Relief from Disabilities and Good Conduct. After participating in the training, job seekers indicated that the information they received was very useful, and they felt better prepared to enter the workforce.
Employers who attended said that they would like to participate in future job fairs like this, and they showed interest in signing Governor Cuomo’s Work for Success pledge, which commits employers to considering qualified individuals with criminal records for employment.