Sewing contractors such as myself often complain about the lack of skilled labor in our field. This is a common complaint from many manufacturers, especially in CT. What’s your plan for finding your next workforce resource? Need a suggestion?
I have a source of pre-trained, vetted employees whose current supervisors vouch for their training, abilities, demeanor, and attitude. I know exactly what these potential employees have been working on in their professional lives potentially for years before. I know that their training also included soft skills such as being responsible and respectful. And, on top of all of that, they were recommended to me by their direct supervisors as someone I can trust to get the job done. Are you sold? Imagine the huge load having this source would take off your shoulders! How about if I share my source with you?
In CT, that potential source of your future workforce is the CT State Department of Corrections, our state prison system.
The State currently runs work programs for inmates in a variety of industries including textile cleaning; apparel and bedding production; upholstery; printing; and machine embroidery. These programs train inmates in the hard skills necessary to fulfill work duties in those specific industries. But, the programs also train inmates in the soft skills necessary to function successfully in any workplace and keep a job. In these work programs, the inmates, equipment, workspaces, materials and time are strictly managed for safety, productivity, and efficiency. This helps build a responsible, reliable workforce.
How do I know all this? Because I have been working with CT Corrections Staff to build a business specifically to employ formerly incarcerated individuals. Also, I have visited the workshops at Osborn in Enfield where I interviewed corrections staff and inmates in their manufacturing programs. I have also interviewed the staff who manage the work programs at York Correctional Institution in Niantic.
When I discuss the idea of employing former inmates, people usually fall into two camps; either they are positively excited and can’t wait to support my efforts, or they pause and stare at me, eyes wide with disbelief and worry. One gentleman even told me I seemed like a “tough girl” but should be careful not to be alone with “them.” I expected both attitudes. I’m arming myself with facts and talking points to educate the folks I encounter.
To be completely honest, as a business owner, I am aware that there are potential customers out there who will avoid working with my company because they don’t want their products made by “convicts”. They validate this attitude by using such reasons as: “inmates committed crimes against their community and so are not worthy of being rewarded with a good job, they’ve already shown they can’t be trusted, why put effort into hiring and training someone that’s going to commit another crime anyway; former inmates have already demonstrated that they are morally corrupt.” And last but not least: “you are foolish to hire ‘these people,’ therefore, I can’t trust you as a business owner either.”
Here’s the way I look at it. My primary duties in my business are to make money, grow my business sustainably, support my own family and as many other families as I can. With that in mind, I would be stupid not to take advantage of this resource of skilled labor right in my backyard. I know where these potential employees have been for the last months/years. I know they have been free of drug and alcohol use for at least the same period. I know what they learned and who trained them. I know there are networks of people in their community who are supporting them during the reintegration process. I also know that, as a rule, they want to work. They also have families, and by supporting them, I can support their families.
Are these potential employees perfect? Of course not. No new employee is. But, I know more impactful facts about them than I would about most potential employees from off the street.
I know you’re looking for stats, so here’s an entire paper from the ACLU showing the advantages of hiring formerly incarcerated individuals. For more info, check out this profile of former Governor Dannel Malloy’s “Second Chance Initiative” here by the CT Mirror. This initiative has expanded dramatically due to the activities of state legislators, local colleges, businesses, business organizations and the NAACP. Read more about their efforts here.
Need more convincing? Ask yourself this important question that seems to convince most folks of the value of hiring formerly incarcerated workers.
Which would you rather have, a former inmate who now works at a meaningful career, feels good about themselves, supports their family, pays taxes and is a good citizen in your community? Or, would you rather have a former inmate who doesn’t get a job, commits another crime and ends up incarcerated again? Would you rather have someone who is contributing to the tax roles in CT just like you or someone who uses up tens of thousands of your tax dollars while in prison?
Feel like you’re missing out on an opportunity to solve your human resources needs? Want to learn more? Check out this video from WFSB, then contact your state legislator or your local chapter of the NAACP.
Looking for more info about creating a great work environment for your employees? Check out this blog post about creating good jobs and this one about creating sustainable employment. Your employees will thank you.
Mary Ruth, Owner of United Sewing and Design has over 30 years experience in the manufacturing of products by sewing and is author of “Industry Sewing Construction Methods” http://amzn.to/2yMxMmk. Her focus is on design, entrepreneurship; social enterprise; the connections between the environment, the apparel industry, and manufacturing; and how owners can leverage artistic methods to benefit their business.