People who were recently released from prison often have a hard time getting hired. But some northern Indiana companies are looking to hire those returning citizens to fill gaps in their workforce.
The "Second Chance Job Fair" in South Bend gave people free rides to the site where they could build a resume and practice interviewing before heading out to a gymnasium to meet employers at their booths. Most of the employers were from manufacturing and construction companies who say they’re struggling to find enough workers to keep up with demand.
Jerome Hayes, one of the job seekers at the fair, said he learned some of the next steps he’d need to take to start a career in commercial trucking.
"It’s very helpful," he said. "I’ve never been to a job fair before, but I can see the beauty in it. It's too helpful [not to go to one]. You can get experience just by listening and learning from these people right here."
Jeff Walker, from The Beacon Community Resource Center, said returning citizens are still a largely untapped source of hard-working and dependable talent.
"Oftentimes they are forgotten, neglected, not even thought about maybe," he said. "So the pool of individuals that you can gather from returning citizens is just tremendous."
Walker said organized job fairs with interested employers helps reduce the logistical barriers and stigma returning citizens face when trying to get back into the workforce.
"Most of these employers understand that these individuals have had a previous criminal conviction," he said. "So that’s not something that you have to hide when you come in here. You can just say 'Hey that was me in the past, but this is me now.'"
The Prison Policy Institute estimates roughly 27 percent of formerly incarcerated people are unemployed, but the odds of recidivism are greatly reduced when they are employed.
The job fair was the only one in Indiana associated with a national non-profit’s initiative that trains churches to help at-risk families overcome barriers to employment.