If you’re a SHRM member or even remotely following major initiatives within the world’s largest association of HR professionals, odds are you’ve heard of “Getting Talent Back to Work”, a pledge drive to promote the hiring of candidates with criminal histories.
Which begs the question – are HR pros really open to hiring people with criminal backgrounds who are available in the talent marketplace?
I was reminded of “Getting Talent Back to Work” at the SHRM National conference, when SHRM CEO Johnny Taylor promoted the cause during his address to the general assembly.
Taylor is easily the best presenter SHRM has had as a CEO. More on that in a bit. First, let’s do a level set and tell you what “Getting Talent Back to Work” is as a program/initiative/platform:
"Getting Talent Back to Work is a national pledge open to all organizations that was signed even before the formal announcement by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association, the National Retail Federation, the American Staffing Association, SHRM, Koch Industries, Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation and more.
Organizations are pledging to give opportunities to qualified people with a criminal background, deserving of a second chance, which creates successful outcomes for employers, all employees, customers and communities.
Ninety-five percent of people in prison will be released—that’s more than 650,000 people every year. As they re-enter society, people with criminal backgrounds are deprived of employment opportunities and organizations are deprived of qualified talent, creating harmful consequences for millions of people."
Getting Talent Back to Work was launched in January 2019, and SHRM immediately got criticized for the inclusion of Koch Industries in the list of organizations agreeing to the pledge. Koch is run by the Koch brothers (Charles and David), who moonlight as political fundraisers/operatives on the Republican side of the aisle.
I discounted the criticism at the time due to the list of organizations beyond Koch Industries that signed the pledge. Any time you have the National Retail Federation and the National Restaurant Association sign off on a pledge to do something differently in the realm of employment, it’s meaningful. But seeing Johnny Taylor - a pretty dynamic mix of presenter and disrupter as the CEO of SHRM - go after the issue hard at SHRM made me want to dig in on the issue a bit.
So, I asked 15 Director/VP of HR types at SHRM National what they thought about “Getting Talent Back to Work.” Here’s a summary of what I heard:
1—Everyone understands the idea has merit. As our society has become more progressive, it’s clear that most of the people I talked to supported the spirit behind the pledge. Most of us believe in second chances.
2 –The devil, as it turns out is in the details. Here’s where it gets dicey. What jobs are available to those with criminal backgrounds? Concerns from my groups of HR Directors/VPs are raised where you would expect – in financial jobs, jobs which provide autonomy of work using expensive tools, etc. If we restrict access to only the lowest level jobs with limited risk, is attempting to employ those with criminal histories still meaningful?
3--Most feel there will be resistance to the idea across the leadership teams they belong to back at the home office related to the concept. While the HR leaders I spoke to get the intent of the Getting Talent Back to Work pledge, most indicated there would be friction and blocking activity as they tried to execute changes to existing policy related to hiring candidates with criminal histories.
4—Hiring Managers are also thought to be a major roadblock. As expected, most of the HR leaders I spoke to thought hiring managers would be less than supportive to this type of hiring policy change.
With all that in mind, my takeaways after these conversations were simple. HR pros are open and welcome participating in Getting Talent Back to Work, but they’re also unclear about the best way to proceed in knocking down barriers that exist in their organizations.
That means Getting Talent Back to Work as a SHRM initiative has legs, but the next step in the program for SHRM will need to focus on helping HR leaders make the business case to skeptics back at the home office. While most of the HR pros I talked to were generally unaware of the toolkit that exists here, a review of the resources makes me recommend the toolkit will need to expand provide a base-level communications campaign that a normal HR leader could use to make presentations, send emails and general communicate the policy changes they're asking for.
The tools that exist are strong, and the next step probably needs to be ghostwritten materials that show an HR leader step-by-step what they can do to initiate change in their organizations.
I like what SHRM is doing in this area, and the fact they stayed on message at the national conference. The next step is to push HR leaders to take action inside their companies and start the necessary dialog.
Change is likely to be slow, but it's a conversation worth having.