Creative Solutions to ‘Re-entry Hiring in Technology’

October 15, 2019

This past spring, members of the Information Technology Alliance (ITA) visited technology workforce development nonprofit i.c.stars prior to the start of their Chicago conference. As part of a Solve-A-Thon activity, designed and led by i.c.stars graduates, the group ended up discussing an unusual topic in technology: re-entry hiring.
 
Modeled after a Hackathon concept, the Solve-a-Thon brought together 25 ITA consulting and accounting technology professionals (Sage Software, Crowe LLP, RKL eSolutions, LBMC Technology Solutions, Baker Tilly, Eide Bailly, DataQuest, Wipfli, CBIZ, and e2b tecknologies, among others) alongside i.c.stars graduates, who are young technologists of color, to tackle a social issue.

Three topics were selected by the i.c. stars graduates as potential topics to tackle:

  1. Re-entry Hiring
  2. Building the Tech Talent Pipeline
  3. Diversity: How to get more women and people of color not only in tech, but in tech leadership.

Three out of four teams opted to tackle ‘re-entry hiring’.

Teams went to their tables and started discussing the topic at hand, with 10-15 minutes for ideation and a similar block of time for developing a solution. Eventually, teams broke to share their findings with the larger group. Questions that surfaced in the table discussions included:

  • How do you deal with being labeled as a felon?
  • How do you restore society’s trust?
  • How do you find guidance?
  • How do you convince employers to hire you?
  • Is there a policy solution?
  • How do you stop the cycle?

A mentoring program, a block chain system, and a shared risk concept like re-entry insurance were among the creative solutions offered by the team of i.c.stars graduate Amber Williams, an entrepreneur who teaches at Cook County Jail. Her team proposed a reentry hiring program that begins inside of the correctional facility in a service like the Cook County Jail Mental Health Transition Center. A service that allows detainees to have time taken off their sentences for completing months of individual and group therapy with cognitive-behavioral interventions.

Working with a program like this, credible people in the corporate world could pair with a currently or formerly incarcerated person who has advocates within the correctional facility for mentorship. Upon release, the participant enters into a several-step program tracked by blockchain technology. A blockchain is, in the simplest of terms, a time-stamped series of unchangeable records of data managed by a cluster of computers. Since the data is shared and unalterable, it is public and easily verifiable.

Steps or milestones in the program would be, for example, the participant finds housing or the participant registers and completes a technology Bootcamp.

Every time a participant completes a step or milestone, a block gets added to their chain. Blockchain would enable employers and mentors to verify the progress of each participant. Mentors would then advocate on behalf of their mentees to employers. Finally, to tackle the risk associated with hiring a formerly incarcerated person, Amber's team proposed reentry insurance. A shared risk concept that would protect employers if something went wrong with their new hire. 

Another team, also focused on re-entry hiring, discussed the need to educate HR on the potential of all candidates and the importance of changing perceptions. Finally, a third team, spoke about creating industry allies through economic incentives, such as tax credits for employers. This team echoed interest in a shared risk, re-entry insurance idea and the need for industry buy-in to start pipeline.

The bigger picture? Employers should start considering their role in the hidden workforce that exists in this country and how they can partner with existing organizations or local correctional facility workforce development programs to start to make a difference and change lives.