The job market is tight. Recruiting, training and retaining workers is a challenge. No surprise then that employment strategies were among the topics discussed by keynote speakers on Day 1 of last week’s ANTEC conference, held June 14 to 16, in Charlotte, N.C.
Lloyd Martin, Allison Grealis, James Emmett, Eve Vitale
In a session moderated by Eve Vitale, Chief Executive of the SPE Foundation, she remarked that the Foundation’s mission “is to support workforce development.” Speakers discussed their strategies for finding workers.
The first speaker, Lloyd Martin, senior vice president of operations at CKS Packaging of Atlanta, spoke about the company’s “Second Chance Program” that gives the homeless and nonviolent ex-cons work opportunities in its 26 manufacturing sites.
CKS employs 3,000 and is on track to post sales of $780 million this year, Martin said, up from $670 million in 2021. The company is privately owned, and the owners are “very Christian,” he remarked.
The company started its Second Chance Program in 2016 by hiring five homeless men and women from an Atlanta shelter, three of whom still work for CKS. By the end of 2016, more than 100 so-called “sustained employees” had been hired across the company. Not all lasted, but CKS never abandoned the idea of giving the down and out a chance for a steady job. By 2019 the company had 185 sustained employees on its roles, and this year there are over 322—more than 10 percent of the workforce.
Many people hired in this program have risen to positions of responsibility in CKS: plant inspectors, utility workers, plant managers, warehouse managers, production managers, quality control, mechanics and machine operators.
Martin said that acclimating these hires to the workday world requires understanding their problems and being supportive. Companies need to develop programs that emphasize training for a career, and not just a job. “Start small,” he advised, “engage with other companies with second chance programs and understand the system of reentry, reintegration and recidivism” that new hires face.
As an example, he cited one homeless person who was hired but almost immediately stopped going to work. His supervisor was ready to fire him until Martin himself checked up on the person and learned that he had been sick, had no phone to call the company, and was planning on telling his supervisor in person once he felt better. The person kept his job and Martin explained to him the importance of staying in touch with an employer.
CKS plants had a point system that penalized workers who showed up late. “We got rid of the points and started asking questions about why a person was late,” he remarked. Most had no transportation or ready access to public transit. Some CKS plants hired vans to pick up these employees.
“If we want to get and sustain the labor,” Martin said, “we have to be better leaders.”
He explained that nationwide 1,042,000 people are incarcerated in state prisons, 208,000 in federal prisons and jails, and 547,000 in local jails. That’s almost 1.8 million people, many of whom committed nonviolent offenses, “an overlooked talent pipeline.” More than 40,000 are released every year, a number that represents an “overlooked talent pipeline.”
Martin concluded by saying, “I want to encourage you to put together a second chance program, because there are skills there that are untapped.”
Companies need to be open minded when dealing with the homeless and ex-cons, he added. “You need to care less about what someone did and more about what they will do.”
“How long does it take to make a friend you can trust?” Martin asked. “That’s the point of this—you need to reach out to these people and give them support. There is a tremendous talent pool here. This is a moral case and a business case.”