Pubdate: Fri, 10 Nov 2000
Source: Associated Press
Copyright: 2000 Associated Press
Author: Martha Irvine
Cited: Northern California Service League: PRIDE Enterprises:


With the economy booming, many employers around the country are so
desperate for workers that they are going to great lengths to recruit
ex-convicts, former gang members and recovering drug addicts.

Fliers are being posted in halfway houses. An increasing number of
employers are offering college tuition reimbursements. Some companies, like
United Parcel Service, even have recruiting vans that roam city
neighborhoods in search of applicants.

Among the more popular methods are "second-chance" job fairs, which have
been organized this year from Massachusetts, Ohio and Iowa to Texas and

At a recent Chicago job fair, organized by state and private agencies,
there were hundreds of applicants and more than a dozen employers, from
Radisson and Hilton hotels to United HealthCare and the Army.

"I need to stay busy - to take care of my kids and stay off the streets,
because it's getting pretty bad out there," said Antwan Berry, a
22-year-old former drug dealer and father of three who was filling out an
application with a messenger service.

"This is my chance to change my life around," said Berry, who is on
probation and having trouble finding the fork-lift driving job he wants.

The nation's unemployment rate is 3.9 percent, a 30-year-low. America is
going through its longest stretch of economic growth ever, nearly 10 years
and counting, and employers are having trouble filling jobs.

In addition, some experts say businesses might be more willing to hire
ex-convicts because they have already had success hiring welfare-to-work

"The overall impression is that welfare recipients are pretty good
employees," said Irene Lurie, a welfare reform researcher at the Nelson A.
Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, N.Y.

Competition for the best of the applicants is so fierce that employers are
getting creative. In St. Louis, for example, Titan Tube Fabricators posts
fliers in halfway houses to help fill welding and other jobs.

"It's definitely hard to come across good people," said Kevin Black, a
Walgreens drugstore manager who attended the Chicago fair. He said he and
another store manager hired six people at a similar job fair two years ago
and the employees are still with the company.

Employers say they are also impressed with ex-convicts who are coming to
them well-prepared - asking good questions, dressed in suits and often with
resumes in hand.

That is due in part to coaching they get the day before the job fair and in
prison. The first rule they are taught: Be honest about your criminal

"A lot of them will tell you right up front that they have a problem with
money," Black said. "So we'll start them off as service clerks and see how
they do."

He and other employers say they consider applicants case by case - looking
at the type of offense, when it happened and length of the sentence. They
also insist that anyone with drug or alcohol addictions is at least in

Their method seems to be gaining popularity.

Last year, at its fourth annual job conference, the Northern California
Service League, a San Francisco agency that serves ex-offenders, placed
more than 600 of them in jobs with wages averaging $8.40 an hour. This
year, employment administrator Darro Jefferson said the agency is on track
to place 1,000.

Part of the key, he said, is to "turn negatives into positives."

He tells the story of a former drug dealer who had no other skills than,
well, salesmanship. Jefferson got him a job at a San Francisco car
dealership, where he is now an assistant general manager.

Matthew Hinton, released in April after serving more than eight years in
Florida for drug dealing, is working for a Clearwater tire retreading
company, using skills he learned in prison. He started work nine days after
he was released with the help of a program called PRIDE Enterprises.

"Now I'm making $9.50 an hour and I'm loving it," said Hinton, 40. "I got
my freedom, my own apartment, a nice car. I feel like I can't ask for
nothing more."
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MAP posted-by: Eric Ernst