Unemployment is at a record low. Employers have vacant positions across the county and report that they can’t find employees to hire. There’s a group of individuals who are ready to work, get back into the community, and contribute to society. This group is part of the 70 million people in the country that have a criminal background, who have a non-violent felony on their record. They can get back and deserve to get back into the workforce, with your help!
In December of 2018, Congress passed and the President signed the FIRST STEP Act into law. FIRST STEP stands for “Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person.” Its goal is very straightforward: to give deserving prisoners the opportunity to get a shortened sentence for positive behavior and job training, and give judges and juries the power that the Constitution intended to grant them in sentencing. This legislation gives individuals seeking employment a better chance to present themselves in person, and encourages employers to consider a candidate’s qualifications first, rather than rejecting someone outright because of a criminal past.
In an effort to help potential employees and employers navigate FIRST STEP legislation, as well as help fill the vacant positions, the McHenry County Workforce Network (MCWN) in conjunction with the McHenry County Mentor Courts, are working with Stateline SHRM and the Shah Center of McHenry County College to help this group of potential employees get back to work.
The program, titled STEP (Stateline Transforming Employment Potential) Forward – Work Readiness Program, focuses on building work readiness for job seekers with a non-violent criminal background. Having completed its third round of workshops in the fall of 2019, the program targets education, training, on-the-job experience, pre-apprenticeships and more. In total, 42 individuals attended the workshops and 36 volunteers presented at the workshops.The participants who “graduate” from the program have learned skills for resume writing, interviewing strategies, expectations for work, and how to have professional interactions with colleagues and supervisors, and are ready to work.
The participants in the STEP program are referred by the McHenry County Mentor Courts and/or probation officers. (McHenry County Mentor Courts serve as models for individuals and court teams interested in starting an Adult Drug Court or for established courts interested in learning innovative practices, and are made possible through collaboration with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) within the Office of Justice Programs at the Department of Justice.)
Thomas Faber, from the Workforce Network who oversees the collaboration and orchestration of this program says, “the individuals involved have made a mistake in their life and have a record. They are also human beings with talent to be developed or repurposed, and deserve to have their “now” separated from their past”. The STEP Forward Program is funded through the WIOA (The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) federal grant and has oversight from the Workforce Network Board and the McHenry County Board.