Freedom to work
As demand for the Upstate’s workforce increases, advocates for Greenville County residents with a criminal background are optimistic that more employers will consider hiring people with imperfect records.
Discussions at a recent Greenville Chamber breakfast involving leaders with state and local government, businesses and nonprofit organizations could have more local companies evaluating policies that exclude hiring anyone with a criminal background.
“From a lot of the follow-up information and questions that ensued after the event, we really think we planted many fruitful seeds,” said Nika White, vice president of diversity and inclusion at the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. “Ultimately, we hope we’re going to find a growing pool of orgs willing to hire ex-offenders.”
As the county with highest population in South Carolina, Greenville County also has more inmates relocated to the area. Proportional to the overall population, one in 10 state inmates, or 4,646, was released to Greenville County in fiscal years 2010-2014, state Department of Corrections data shows.
The U.S. Census estimated 482,752 Greenville County residents in 2014.
Education to counter myths
The Greenville Re-entry Coalition and the Chamber plan to encourage more discussions between employers and nonprofit organizations that assist people with criminal backgrounds, said White, also a member of the coalition.
Research shows ability to get a job as a key indicator of whether someone released from prison will turn into a repeat offender.
“There’s a lot of myths out there like ‘once a criminal, always a criminal,’” White said. “For us, it was the starting process of education.”
The Greenville-Mauldin-Easley metropolitan statistical area ranked 21st in the country in 2013 among MSAs with fastest job growth in advanced industry jobs, according to a Brookings Institution study.
Growing demand for high-tech, high-skilled jobs continues to create a challenge for the region’s business and government leaders, leading some companies to identify new sources of workers. A Greenville County Development Corporation target industry analysis released in May 2013 showed concern related to the labor force.
“While labor availability is not a huge concern for most of the employers we spoke to, it can be difficult to find employees with certain skill sets,” the report states. “Those skill sets mentioned include technical engineering, certain electronics positions, CNC operators, skilled maintenance and strong business development skills.”
Steve Hand, director of the Quick Jobs with a Future program at Greenville Technical College, also works with inmates at five different prisons in the state related to a state-funded program called Self-Paced In-Class Education (SPICE). The job-training program for inmates helps prepare them for employment after leaving prison, including high-skilled jobs.
Hand said the gathering of many employers for the Chamber event will help encourage human resource directors and other corporate hiring leaders to review hiring practices related to criminal backgrounds.
“Our goal was to explain to these folks why they should consider hiring people who have blemishes on their records,” said Hand, a panelist at the breakfast. “If a person doesn’t have a job and has no money coming in, then hope for the future is not good.”