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“We can’t have the mindset that everyone with a criminal history need not apply,” said Mike Coffey.

KANNAPOLIS — With almost one in four American adults having been arrested or prosecuted for a criminal offense, the pool of job applicants with a criminal history is large and continuing to grow. In searching for qualified employees, many companies face uncertainty about how selective they should be when considering these candidates for open positions.

Human resources expert Mike Coffey recently presented a workshop called “Becoming a First-Rate Business from Second Chance Hiring,” sponsored by Rowan-Cabarrus Community College at its facility on the N.C. Research Campus. Local employers, social service providers, recruiters and others were on hand to learn how businesses can benefit from including former offenders as a viable choice in their hiring practices.

“If we just ignore this population, we are missing out on a pool of reliable and available talent,” Coffey said. “Often the people you hire on a gamble turn out to be great employees. It depends on the person’s outlook and attitude, and the company’s ability to assess risk based on the job environment and requirements of the position.”

Coffey is an entrepreneur, licensed private investigator and top-rated speaker on business issues ranging from employee selection to culture and strategy. His presentation was hosted by the College’s ReBuild Your Future program, which provides job training and guidance to people who identify their criminal record as a barrier to employment.

ReBuild Your Future offers two sequences of specific job training, one leading to certification for work in light construction occupations and another to prepare students to obtain their Class B Commercial Driver’s License, which is often used in the construction field. The program is made possible by a grant from the NCWorks Local Innovation Fund, part of Gov. Roy Cooper’s NC Job Ready Initiative to address workforce challenges for underserved populations and develop talent for in-demand occupations. ReBuild Your Future offers internships, scholarships, employment counseling and other support services.

“When people are ready to take the next step to a better life, we can help them get there,” said Keri Allman, Rowan-Cabarrus R3 Career Services account manager and administrator for the ReBuild Your Future program. “It is very rewarding and worthwhile to help give people the opportunity for positive, lasting change.”

Coffey discussed statistics related to criminal offenses and employment, and shared risk evaluation tactics and mitigation techniques to assist employers in making fair, well-informed hiring decisions.

“We can’t have the mindset that everyone with a criminal history need not apply,” Coffey said. “An estimated 57 million Americans have misdemeanor or felony convictions. That’s a giant source of potential labor, creativity and productivity.”

Within Rowan and Cabarrus counties alone, there are more than 3,400 former offenders under supervised probation and many more who have criminal records. Studies show that former offenders who find work are three times less likely to return to prison.

“The goal is to have a process where everybody is being evaluated fairly, which means that sometimes people won’t get jobs because of their past decisions, and other times their past is not relevant to the job,” Coffey said. “There are those with felonies who made a critical error in judgement, paid their debt to society, changed their world view, and came back committed to succeeding. Then, there’s another group who thinks just like they did before they were incarcerated and either won’t accept jobs they feel are beneath them or don’t have the behaviors required to perform that job. It’s not just a line drawn between misdemeanors and felonies.”

Companies committed to considering the “whole applicant” often benefit from former offenders who are dependable, are less likely to quit, and are less likely to be voluntarily terminated.

“Finding a good job can be the single biggest turning point for an individual who has been incarcerated and, at the same time, employers are in need of eager, qualified workers,” said Carol Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus. “By helping companies become second chance employers, we help close the skills gap and offer people the chance for a better life.”

Another event for employers will be scheduled in the late spring. For more information about the ReBuild Your Future program, call 704-216-7276 or visit www.rccc.edu/rebuild. For more information about Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, visit www.rccc.edu or call 704-216-RCCC (7222).

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