Tapping an often overlooked workforce segment

This month, we’re highlighting the work we do in Memphis and Shelby County to prepare incarcerated individuals to reenter the workforce. This work is critically important; justice-involved individuals represent a group that often faces the most challenges while trying to find a foothold in the workforce.

One of the biggest barriers that previously incarcerated individuals face is finding direction in a technical-skills based workforce that often leaves them behind. When people spend months and years being incarcerated, often the industries they worked in advance procedurally or technologically. Or, people who were previously pursuing technical training may find that the knowledge they gained in school no longer applies to a modernized industry. When that happens, finding meaningful work is more challenging and the tendency for recidivism increases. 

But there is an alternative path. By offering industry specific technical training to people in prison, we can prepare justice-involved persons for future careers immediately upon release. When we can pair these programs with the job needs of our community, we are combatting two challenges with one workforce development program. That’s exactly where Hope2Hire’s Career Development programs come in. 

One of the industries that has a vast need in Memphis is the culinary arts. We partner with a tenured culinary educator to give students quality training in food science, restaurant management and meal preparation.This is important in an industry that’s projected to grow at far above the normal rate by 2030, meaning our students who graduate will more than likely be able to find roles with fair, living wages. 

Our trade-based programs not only benefit students who obtain trade qualifications, but also our local economy. We partner with Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) to provide masonry, logistics and carpentry training for previously incarcerated individuals – training that they might not have access to otherwise. Both carpentry and masonry jobs are listed in U.S. News’ top 14 best jobs in the construction industry, and have great outlooks for entry-level hiring. These roles support the development of new buildings, renovation of existing spaces and the overall revitalization of our community. 

While our programming does a fantastic job of preparing previously incarcerated individuals for the workforce, that preparation is only half the battle. We also have to acknowledge the negative biases and perceptions that come with hiring people with a criminal history. 

When you hire a justice-involved person you’re contributing to our local economy. A report from the Brennan Center detailing the impact of imprisonment on Americans found that average annual household earnings decreased by 52% among people who spent time in prison, 22% among people who were convicted of a felony but spent no subsequent time in prison, and 16% among people who were convicted of a misdemeanor. These wage losses not only impact the justice-involved person, but their families and households. By expanding your job opportunities to include ex-offenders, and paying them a living wage, you are investing in local people and in our economy.

If you’re interested in partnering with Hope 2 Hire to provide hope to our students for a brighter future, give us a call at 901-272-3000.

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