Ottawa County Michigan Works!

Employment Expertise – Open Positions But No Qualified People

Question: I often receive job applications from people who have criminal convictions, even felonies, in their backgrounds. Should I hire people with criminal histories?

Answer: If you are automatically tossing aside applications from people who’ve served time in jail or prison, you might be excluding some potentially valuable employees.

Human resource officials from area companies that hire ex-offenders say they can be among their most motivated workers. Former criminal offenders who are committed to re-establishing themselves in society know they’re re-entering the work force with a bias against them. That can be a strong incentive to work doubly hard.

Employers considering hiring people with criminal histories should know that there is support for both business and ex-offenders in the community. Agencies such as Ottawa County Michigan Works and 70 x 7, a faith-based nonprofit group in Holland, provide mentoring, job-readiness training and work skills testing to help the job seekers become more job-ready and to assimilate in a work atmosphere.

Ex-offenders also receive regular manditory supervision – often including drug screening – from their parole officers in Ottawa County.

The current unemployment rate for those on parole in Ottawa County is 60 percent.

Returning former offenders to successful, self-supporting or family-supporting status is a community challenge.
Why is it important? Connecting them with jobs not only improves their lives and the lives of their children, it helps the community by reducing crime, eases the burden on social service and nonprofit agencies, and saves Michigan
taxpayers the $30,000 per year it costs to incarcerate someone.

It can also make business sense. Recognizing the hurdles that criminal offenders face in the job market, the government provides financial incentives to employers. Some of these incentives can vary in amount. But employers can save money on their federal income taxes by hiring those convicted of a felony. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit pays up to $2,400 of the first-year wages for each new person hired.

Hiring an ex-offender should be based on sound hiring principles, of course. Employers should know, however that there is community support for this group of highly motivated job seekers complete with job readiness and skill building.

Story on the Holland Sentinel