August 15, 2022

Local company finds solution to finding needed workers

Willoughby Industries CEO Craig Alderson

Willoughby Industries CEO Craig Alderson

Many employers are faced with severe worker shortages, but a local business on the city’s northwest side addresses the problem by providing opportunities for individuals who were previously incarcerated.  WFYI's Taylor Bennett spoke with Willoughby Industries CEO Craig Alderson, about the effort to include people who are re-entering from the justice system.

WFYI's Taylor Bennett: You have a long practice of hiring ex offenders which I find very interesting, especially, because the retention rate is so great for you, how did you make that decision to start hiring ex offenders?

Willoughby Industries CEO Craig Alderson: I would love to tell you it was my decision. It preceded me, I'm in year 28. And we the company Willoughby, was already involved with the work release programs. When I got there. And we had a at the time, we had a plant manager who was exceptionally skilled at directing people and understanding people's varying backgrounds and figuring out how they could, you know, turn into solid, you know, productive employees. And he was he was just a talented guy. And he, he helped us dramatically as we move forward and through this, and it's just become a normal course of our business now and it's kind of interesting.

Bennett: How many do you have right now?

Alderson: Right now, I think it total is around nine. And it varies a little bit. In 2022 year-to- date, we've higher, we've extended offers to four, we've hired three, and we get a lot of help from specifically from the Indiana DOC. And Commissioner Carter has been very instrumental in helping us with this and getting us navigated to the right people so that when an ex offender becomes available and is interested in looking, we can get connected. And that's one of the biggest battles right there is because I think in a lot of cases, the ex offenders reach a point where they just don't know what to do. And there is a mechanism in place to help them. And we coordinate with the folks that IDOC and it just seems to work out well.

Bennett: Do you provide any kind of training when they come in?  What's kind of the basic procedure when you decide to hire an ex offender when they come in and what to get started?

Alderson: It varies widely. And the reason I say that is because we can get people in that have a mechanical aptitude, that perhaps have worked in manufacturing before. Or you can get people who simply need a job and don't have any true mechanical abilities. So we see it all through the spectrum. There are some that come in and have gone through a DOC sponsored training program for let's say, welding or different skill sets that they offer. And that's a real bonus for us. But nine times out of 10, we have to train,

Bennett: You know, we've heard so much about employers desperately looking for people to work and in all kinds of industries. Are you facing that same dilemma too?

Alderson: It's the worst hiring environment I've seen in 30 years brutal, cannot find any? It's awful. I mean, and I say that from staff, I'm not being critical of people. I'm one of those people that says at the end of the day, where did all the people go? And I mean that from the standpoint of it seems like we used to be able to find people for different roles, and you knew you'd have to train them. It seems now that it's much more difficult, much more challenging. And, that lends itself to the ex offender programs, I mean, really does, because a lot of them come out and there's a lot of employers that just simply won't consider those folks for employment. And to some extent, I understand that. But once you learn what the program is about, once you have some experience with it, it's not as intimidating maybe as you know, might be for someone coming right out of the blocks and said, Okay, we're gonna hire an ex offender because you can get pushback from existing employees and say, Well, I don't want to do that, or I don't want to you know, and by and large, that doesn't happen.

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