By Mark Schultz~
As many service providers know, working with special populations that have barriers to work presents a host of challenges. When assisting individuals who have been incarcerated, for example, service providers face unique challenges germane to this particular population.
Potential gaps in employment history while incarcerated, hopeless that they will find a job, and fear that legitimate jobs will be unattainable upon release often are some of the issues job seekers with criminal records face. Subsequently, they sometimes come into employment programs with little motivation to try.
All is not as bleak as these individuals may initially think, though. Many may have worked while incarcerated, particularly jobs in prison industries (MINNCOR). Food service, barbering, tutoring, and “swamper” (janitor) are all jobs that can translate well for “outside” employment.
Some may come out of prison feeling that their employment while incarcerated is not seen as legitimate. What they don’t consider is that work history is work history, no matter where the work is done. The jobs that someone can put on a resume or job application are not confined to those done outside prison walls.
Most of the correctional facilities within the Minnesota Department of Corrections have specific industries that allow residents to earn money. More importantly, however, these jobs allow incarcerated individuals to gain valuable work experience that they can take with them and discuss with an employer.
As seen in table above, there are many skilled jobs in various industries that inmates in correctional facilities can do. Individuals can leave confinement knowing that they are a skilled worker with much to offer an employer rather than a stigmatized individual.
Using DEED’s JobSTAT tool, an individual can enter the occupation(s) they worked in and find similar occupations that could utilize those skills, thus opening up more opportunities for them post-release.
For example, the top three job matches for an individual who worked as a cutter/trimmer (hand) are shown in table 2 below. Notice that the top three related occupations using those skills are in high regional demand!
While some jobs will be unattainable to ex-offenders, depending on the type of offense, there are many job types that hire individuals with criminal backgrounds. The table below shows some of the industries in Southeast Minnesota.
The table above is is far from a comprehensive list. It does offer a brighter outlook for those who have spent time incarcerated. Almost half of these industries pay more than the average wage across all industries, and many of them have a large number of jobs.
Although some industries, such as accommodation and food services, have lower wages, and these and other jobs are characterized by part-time and seasonal work. They could easily be a second job for supplemental income.
Michelle Smith, the warden at MCF-Oak Park Heights, talked about hearing from a former resident that found a good job.
“(He) got his welding certification (in prison) and it only took him two weeks to get a job, full-time employment,” she said.
“He said ‘Tell the guys there are jobs out here, and to hang in there’.”
Mark Schultz is DEED’s Regional Analyst for Southeastern Minnesota, and was previously a job counselor who worked with ex-offenders. You can contact him at 507-453-2962 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.