President’s Report – September 2019

I heard a business owner say the other day, “Anyone who wants to work already has a job.”

As an employer in this economy, I can relate. it has been a challenge to find and keep quality employees. Because of the type of work that we do, it is even more challenging to find people with certain required qualifications and without a recent criminal history.

Doing what we have always done wasn’t working, so we had to look for new ways to post jobs and recruit employees. Our staff made some changes, and I have to congratulate them. Their efforts are paying off, and we have been able to hire several well qualified individuals in the last month.
On the other hand, as an agency tasked with helping ex-offenders find employment, it is the best of times right now. Companies have reached out to us to see if we have people ready and able to work.

Just recently, several of us had the chance to attend a workshop put on by Fifth Third Bank titled “EXPANDING THE WORKFORCE WITH SECOND CHANCE EMPLOYEES: The business of hiring re-entry employees.” The speaker talked about the labor shortage potentially having a negative impact on the economic growth we have experienced the last several years. He spoke about employers looking to hire people on parole or probation, many of whom would never have considered hiring an ex-offender in the past.

Leveraging this positive development, the Michigan Department of Corrections has operated vocational training programs inside the prisons for the last few years. For instance, DTE Energy recently gave the MDOC a grant to train tree trimmers because they can’t find anyone trained to do this work.

We see tremendous opportunity here, as well. KPEP has operated vocational training programs for three years. When a hospitality graduate recently applied at a local restaurant with her certifications that included OSHA 10, First Aid/CPR, ServeSafe and American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute (AHLEI), she was asked “where did you get all this?” She replied “KPEP” and was hired immediately. The employer reported that he would hire anyone else with these same credentials.

One of the panelists at the Fifth Third workshop, an employer, was asked how successful he’s been hiring people coming out of prison. He said that some of them work out and some of them don’t, not unlike the people he hires without a criminal record. The statement was familiar – I’ve said it a thousand times over the years.

A current and related challenge for employers is how to handle the legalization of marijuana in Michigan as it relates to both pre-employment and post-employment drug testing. On the one hand marijuana use is now legal in Michigan. The problem, unlike alcohol, is measuring the level of impairment. Someone could have used marijuana a week ago and still test positive on a pre-employment drug screen. Someone else could have had a blood alcohol level above the legal limit the day prior and pass the Breathalyzer without any problem the next day.

Employers in Michigan with federal contracts may have different policies given the fact that marijuana is still illegal under federal law. I’m not sure what the answer is, but as one of the panelists stated, the issue of impairment in the workplace, whether with legal or illegal substances, is never going to be tolerated. Workplace safety is always going to be a priority, particularly in jobs that involve driving or operating machinery.

Still, there are some tremendous opportunities right now for folks who want to work. Part of that opportunity is for them to help change the attitudes of employers who were not previously inclined to hire people with a criminal record. Many of them become excellent employees if given the chance.