Second Chance Hiring Can Transform Business 

by Jeff Korzenik

Man hold and illustration of multiple people icons

As businesses emerge from the setbacks of the pandemic, they are increasingly challenged to find the workforce they need to grow. Much of this is demographic. Many older workers have permanently left the workforce, joining a march of retiring baby boomers that will average 10,000 retirees each day over much of the next decade. The millennials, largely already in the workforce, have not been followed by another age wave of workers since birth rates have been declining since 1990 and hitting a record low in 2020. Declining fertility is a global phenomenon, so even immigration is an incomplete solution.

The answer and key to our ability to prosper is for businesses to “dig deeper” into our population, supporting those who have been sidelined from the labor market. This is second chance hiring, employing some of the 19 million Americans who have felony convictions, a significant barrier to full participation in the economy. Corporate leaders, like the new Second Chance Business Coalition led by JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon and Craig Arnold, the CEO of Eaton, are spurring change. Fortunately, in pockets across the country, small and mid-sized businesses have already developed models of success that larger firms can emulate, which is the subject of my book, Untapped Talent: How Second Chance Hiring Works for Your Business and the Community (HarperCollins Leadership, April 2021).

The experience of the second chance employers I have studied is, their businesses benefit even beyond the acquisition of loyal and engaged workers. I often cite the example of JBM Packaging, a second-generation Ohio company with 150 employees, more than 20% with criminal records hired through the company’s “Fair Chance” program.

Extracts from the Epilogue of Chapter Six: Case Study – JBM Packaging

JBM sought to solve a labor shortage. In finding the solution, the business transformed the lives of those in its Fair Chance Program, transformed the legacy employees and, most surprising, transformed JBM itself. 

That people with records who are given the chance to succeed can do so is the inspirational outcome of every true second chance company I have studied. What struck me about JBM is the way its program also changed the lives of employees. Ashley Caudill (the company HR recruiter) observed that the long-time employees who had been most resistant have become the most accepting, complimenting the “fair chancers” (a classification not encouraged by management, but used on the plant floor) for their old-school work ethic, “They work harder than anyone.” Some employees have referred family members and neighbors into the program …

For Marcus Sheanshang, JBM’s CEO, the Fair Chance Program changed his entire vision for the company: “As we learned, it really did change who we are. This was a revolution, not an evolution.” The company changed its name from JBM Envelope to JBM Packaging with a broader view of its business and what the company represents. In Sheanshang’s words, “We are certainly a packaging business, but we are more than that.” 

Most telling is the change of vision from “Dominate targeted small, open-end envelope markets” to “Be the role model for a profitable, purpose-driven company.” Fair chance is now an intrinsic part of a purpose-driven company. Coupled with the new vision was a statement of purpose: “Better Solutions, Better Lives, Better World.” 

The change in the company’s purpose flips the narrative with JBM’s sales team. Where once the point was to sell more product, tied to the mission of dominating the envelope market, now Sheanshang tells his sales group, “You have to sell a lot so we can transform more lives.” The statement of purpose has focused the company on new solutions using its expertise and experience in dealing with mechanized paper-folding techniques. The company is increasingly growing its packaging business using glassine and other paper-based materials, part of the plastic-to-paper transition that is reducing plastic use worldwide. To highlight the biodegradable nature of its packaging solutions, the company trademarked the phrase, “We create packaging products with their death in mind.” JBM proudly shares its Fair Chance Program with prospective customers as part of the fulfillment of its purpose. Says Sheanshang, “I want our people out there talking about this.” 

Linking the statements of Vision and Purpose are the six Core Values of the company. Like other companies, JBM sought to enumerate the bedrock principles to which the company should aspire, through a statement of “core values.” Among the six that JBM chose is “Grit,” a descriptor applied to second chance hires repeatedly in my research. Sheanshang agrees and reminds his fair chance hires that they model this value for the entire company.  

Jeff Korzenik is chief investment strategist of one of the nation’s largest commercial banks and the author of Untapped Talent: How Second Chance Hiring Works for Your Business and the Community (HarperCollins Leadership, April 2021).

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