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With labor shortages being such a hot topic, it may surprise you to learn that there is a pool of talent many organizations are leaving untapped. 

Today, we’re speaking with Mark Behrends, COO of Pioneer Human Services, a non-profit social enterprise that partners with communities to reduce the impact of incarceration and empowers people to live safe, healthy, and productive lives. Mark oversees Pioneer Industries, a Tier 1 full-service CNC machining and sheet metal fabrication company that is a supplier to the aerospace industry for companies like Boeing.

What you will learn:

➡️ The benefits of second-chance hiring for both organizations and individuals

➡️ Misconceptions the public has about second-chance hiring

➡️ How Pioneer's second chance program works

The benefits of second chance hiring for manufacturers

In Mark's first month of working with Pioneer Industries, one of his kids asked him, "Dad, are you sure you feel safe going to work there?" But by that point, he had not put much thought into it, and it didn't feel odd to him at all. This was interesting for Mark to hear which put into perspective that way of thinking may be representative of what other companies think about hiring second-chance or previously incarcerated persons. He found that in his experience when he has managed groups or businesses that didn't have a platform similar to Pioneer's, it was actually more troubling. Mark likes to tell people that Pioneer's model in some ways is better than others because people going through their program experienced the downside and came out more committed and loyal, knowing what they want to do - they have a higher desire to succeed and don't want to end up back in the system. In most cases, before they got into trouble they were operating businesses themselves or they were highly skilled machinists, so Pioneer ended up getting the benefits of their experience.

The benefits of second chance hiring for individuals

After recently giving a speech to an aerospace group, Mark was asked the question, what are some of the things he thought are really important that he's learned working as the COO of Pioneer Human Services? And one of the key points he was compelled to make is that it is really important to be able to tell a story, which has been emphasized, for him in his line of work. There are always a lot of numbers that people throw around - you want to make a profit in order to meet sales goals, but the thing that people remember is the story, and Pioneer has no shortage of stories.

People who have had trouble with the justice system, been involved with it, or have been dealing with addiction are all the way up and down the organization. There are employees helping to run the company that have criminal backgrounds and this is where their stories come into play. These people have accomplished great things from where they began and it is very moving. Believe it or not, there are many other like-minded companies who might not have the programs Pioneer does but they are eager to provide opportunities for people looking for a second chance.

With that being said, their level of eagerness directly relates to the economy and the unemployment rate. When unemployment is really low, suddenly people are more willing to take a risk on the type of talent they are bringing into their organization, but when unemployment is really high they are able to be more selective as they have a broader pool of candidates to choose from and the last number of years has really shifted that mentality to consider other options.

How Pioneer's Roadmap to Success program works

To provide an inside look for you, Pioneer has a typical machine shop setup that requires a high volume of machinists and assemblers that perform small sub-assemblies on the shop floor and it doesn't stop there. Their quality group includes people that run the finish line in the back where the painting is performed, along with administrative staff support who are tasked with purchasing, shipping, scheduling, and customer service from the office.

For a couple of the roles Pioneer hires into, employees are required to start out on the shop floor as it's very important for them to understand the nature of the business before they talk to people outside of the company about the inner workings. When people are brought in for their second chance opportunity, they may not have knowledge of the aerospace industry as their experience may be related to other industries, which is why Pioneer likes to familiarize them with the market.

Additional preparatory steps include checking that when people are brought on they understand what it's like coming to work every day. When people have been part of the system for 10 to 20 years they may not be able to easily adapt to that mentality considering it was not expected of them before which occasionally results in losing people because they are not able to handle the commitment at that point in their life. Other than that, Pioneer tries to be as flexible as it can in order to help people adapt to a regular working schedule.

Roadmap to Success Program

Pioneer's roadmap to success program has been in effect for a number of years, and the goal of this program is to create an environment for people to prepare for the interview process. More specifically, to allow applicants to talk about their past in a way that is mutually comfortable for them, and the person conducting the interview. The roadmap program is set up to run for three to four weeks per class.

This model gives people the chance to work through re-entry questions while simultaneously attending classes which in most cases are happening on-site at the manufacturing plant. One of the greatest assets of this program is the current employees who are able to share their personal experiences, why they are there, and how Pioneer has helped them turn their life around. Mark expressed that as each new class comes in, he will analyze if he thinks they will make the cut, and more often than not he is pleasantly surprised by the outcome when it's time for graduation.

Boeing 'Supplier of the Year'

Pioneer has had a great run as Mark expressed but in his first year with the company things didn't start out on the strongest foot. The aerospace market was booming and deliverables fell far behind, which is an understatement. He recalls being on vacation with his family when he got the call that Boeing would be on site the next day at which point he had no choice but to hop on a plane and attend the meeting. He recalls entering a room full of unhappy Boeing associates, and rightfully so.

Since then, quality delivery metrics have been up, resulting in rising up the ladder with Boeing in terms of customer satisfaction. This success culminated in Pioneer being nominated for 'Supplier of the Year' which really sunk in after attending the ceremony including 11,000 suppliers and 60 companies. This was a true testament to the efforts and commitment of their workforce. When they started out, Pioneer would manufacture small parts that were not necessarily critical to Boeing. In fact, if they didn't produce them, they probably would have been just fine without that. But fast forward, they're a sole source supplier. If you look at the cockpit of a 737, Pioneer makes the frames that hold the avionics displays for the pilots, footrests, center consoles, overhead fittings for the cockpit, and more which is why Boeing counts on Pioneer to provide those parts every day.

Advice for manufacturers considering expanding their labor pool

It doesn't take long for a company that wants to give second-chance hiring a try to explore the benefits. Although there may not be a 100% success rate, if you are committed to the process, you're not going to be disappointed. If you happen to hire somebody that's been through the Roadmap to Success program, Pioneer offers nine months of case management support for each of those employees. If an employee is struggling with getting to work on time, bus schedule conflicts, financial troubles, or medical challenges, Pioneer is there to help bridge the gap with support.

Sometimes, companies run into roadblocks internally where there might be an individual manager who feels passionate about doing this type of thing, but then you go up the line in the organization and not everyone shares that same passion and has their own reservations. Mark has worked with companies to navigate that and bring people up to speed on all the data and the benefits of hiring people that need a second chance. Mark's final piece of advice, stick with it!


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