Starting a new business entails equal parts of anxiety and optimism. As founder of 70 Million Staffing, I can’t help but wonder if this is as good an idea as my team and I believe, while dreaming about finding the elusive “product market fit” that equates to great success. In our business, success means we’ve not only built a very valuable, profitable company, but we’ve also helped many, many deserving men and women find employment. But on the merits, I’m pretty well convinced we’re on to something very special.
We launched 70 Million Jobs about 18 months ago, and we’ve been thrilled with the progress we’ve made. When I launched the company, I was very clear that we wouldn’t be trying to help everyone with a record; those just released typically have many issues to address on the way to becoming a viable, successful employee, like housing, substance abuse, mental health, family issues, and lost more. These folks are well served by participating in a reentry program that takes a holistic approach to their returning to society.
Our goal was to help those men and women who basically have their act together, have been out for a couple of years or more, while managing to stay out of trouble. These people need just a little bit of help by having one less door slam in their face, and will do just fine on the job. And when they preform well at work, they clear the way for more and more applicants with records to find gainful employment.
We’ve always considered employment the silver bullet to short-circuiting the endless cycles of recidivism that destroy lives, families and communities. Returning citizens without jobs almost always end of being re-arrested; those with jobs almost never return to jail or prison. It’s just that simple.
At 70 Million Jobs, we built a job board that aggressively marketed employment opportunities to the formerly incarcerated. We did it as a for-profit venture, and we did it on a national scale, which means we can work with the largest, national employers. They pay us to access this virtually untapped pool of labor.
But nearly every prospective employer would ask us if we did any screening of candidates, prior to them being referred. Almost every large employer has a set of criteria—their “matrix”—which spells out the terms in which human resource departments can hire those with criminal records. Most will not hire people with violent or sexual crimes in their pasts, particularly if the crimes were committed within five or six years.
We certainly appreciate that a busy HR professional does not want to waste time or the expense of processing applications (which includes interviews, background and reference checks, etc.) of people they cannot, under any circumstances, hire. And by the same token, we are heartbroken when we hear of job seekers finding their dream job, only to be told at the end of the process that they won’t be hired, given their record.
But employment law is very strict when it comes to who, how and when questions may be asked of an applicant regarding their possible criminal past. A background check can only be administered if and when a company is prepared to make a conditional offer of employment. As a job board, we would never be making such an offer, which means we can’t ask these important screening questions. And as a consequence of this inability, many companies have shied away from hiring people with records, even when they very much could use their services.
But there is another way for us to operate that we think will be very profitable, and will result in many more of our job seekers landing jobs: operate as a staffing agency.
Staffing agencies serve as the hirer of record of their job seekers. They pay their salaries, deduct taxes, workers comp, etc. They then make their employees available to companies large and small, by passing on the hard costs they incur, plus a mark-up for their troubles. Now, if a company resists hiring someone who committed a crime three years ago, we can offer an employee who committed their crime seven years ago.
And again, since we’re the official hirer, we take some of the perceived risk away the employer, and shoulder it ourselves. Additionally, we have access to all the data regarding how well a hiree does on the job, how long they’re employed, promotions, salaries, etc. This is crucial information that has historically been very hard to amass.
A recent study from the Society for Human Resource Management (or “SHRM”) found that most hiring managers with experience hiring the formerly incarcerated believe that the quality of hire is as good as if not better than hiring someone without a record. Other studies suggest that people with records are retained on the job longer, as well. Our anecdotal experience tells us that when you hire someone with a record, you’re gaining an exceptionally loyal, hard-working employee.
So we’re very optimistic about our “pivot” into staffing, along with many of our clients. We figure that we’ll end up becoming the largest employer of people with records in the US, if not the world. We love the sound of that.
So wish us luck, and if you’re in the position to hire great talent, give us a chance to make a case for our new employees. We think you’ll be surprised at how well things turn out.