Finding a job after being incarcerated is enormously difficult for a variety of reasons, yet it’s key to reducing recidivism.
The goal of the recently announced partnership between the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), a national nonprofit based in New York that provides employment services to people returning from jail or prison, and industry association CompTIA is to create pathways to IT careers for this population.
Now underway, the new 22-week, part-time online program administered by CompTIA will train its first group in the CompTIA IT Fundamentals and CompTIA A+ certifications.
“We’ve had some success getting our participants into this type of training [previously] and then getting them employed, but we really wanted to do a larger cohort, getting more of our participants this certification that ultimately can get them a great job in the IT support field,” says Dane Worthington, CEO’s director of mobility programs. “We looked around for partners and found CompTIA. They’re the ones that have the Cadillac certification, [and] they’ve been a great partner to work with to organize this cohort of CEO participants.”
The CEO partnership is part of CompTIA’s ongoing initiative “to increase the diversity of the workforce in general,” says Courtney Fong, CompTIA’s chief operating officer and CEO of the CompTIA Tech Career Academy. “So we’ve been working with a lot of organizations like CEO to make sure that we are looking in a broad range of places for IT talent and even in places where … it traditionally hasn’t come from. So this is a natural extension. … We’re really excited to be connected.”
In fact, this is not CompTIA’s first partnership with an organization helping the formerly incarcerated find jobs in IT. A year ago, the group worked with Dallas-based Girls Embracing Mothers to provide customized CompTIA A+ technical training to 10 mothers as well as some financial assistance while they looked for work.
Finding work, particularly good-paying jobs with careers paths, has historically been “very difficult,” says Worthington, “both because of the stigma that comes along with people that have criminal convictions and the increased use of background checks to immediately bar people before they even get one step into the interview process.”
Founded in 1996, CEO, which Worthington calls “a social enterprise,” has 30 offices across 12 states serving around 7,000 individuals a year. Its model guarantees every participant who completes a brief paid orientation up to four days a week of paid transitional work on an indoor/outdoor maintenance crew plus job coaching to find full-time employment. Once participants land a job, CEO continues working with them for a year to ensure they have the support they need to grow in their careers. The organization works with parole and probation authorities to identify candidates who will be a good fit for their programs.
“We have a unique model,” Worthington says. “We employ individuals immediately. We become their employer of record and we go out and do real work in the community. We typically serve people that don’t have a lot of formal work history or high educational attainment. And our program model has been proven through the gold standard, randomized control trials, to both reduce recidivism and also attach individuals long term to the workforce.”
CEO’s data shows a 22% reduced recidivism rate among its participants and $3.30 in taxpayer benefits for every $1.00 spent on the program.
CEO is covering the cost of CompTIA training for the program’s 35 initial participants and providing everyone with a computer that they can keep through a partnership with PCs for People, plus a hotspot and ongoing services and support during and after the training to help individuals secure jobs.
“[Internet] access is the thing that can be really tough for individuals because they may have unstable housing situations,” Worthington explains. “So [with] the ability to get a hotspot and bring that hotspot with them, however their housing situation evolves while in the program, they should be able to maintain the connectivity to maintain the training.”
The program’s first set of openings filled immediately, and CEO has a waiting list. “It’s a field that a lot of people want to get into,” Worthington says. “They know that IT is the future and they don’t want to be left behind.”
Worthington acknowledges that some employers may be reluctant to hire someone who has been incarcerated, but he is optimistic. “What CEO does best, and what we’ve been doing for over 30 years, is both finding second chance employers but also working with employers who are not second chance to help them understand all the benefits of becoming a second chance employer.”
Concludes Fong, “The IT industry is ripe for opportunity for everyone regardless of the past. So this is a great opportunity for us to promote them in this and then also hopefully the employers on the other side to realize the idea that the workforce that they need can come from a lot of different areas.”