By Gabby Pardo and Paige Clarke
The Halo Network Inc. and One Stop Employment Center in Suffolk County hosted two seminars to assist ex-convicts attempting to re-enter the workforce with resume building and interview skills on Feb. 25 and March 4.
The training sessions were free, and aimed at preparing ex-convicts for the seventh annual Fresh Start Career Expo on March 27 in Hauppauge. Participants were also offered free professional attire, new and gently used, and dressing tips through the Career Couture program within the One Stop Employment Center. Walmart, Home Depot, Castella Imports and Amneal Pharmaceuticals announced they will attend the expo. Up to 300 job seekers are expected to attend the event.
“This job training session is the first step towards looking for employment,” Melvin McClinton, a participant at the March 4 job training session, said. “Whatever comes my way, I’d like to try anything, I’m open for suggestions. Right now I’m just looking for a job, taking whatever I can get.”
The ex-convict unemployment rate is currently at an estimated 27 percent nationally – nearly seven times higher than the current general unemployment rate of 4 percent, according to a July 2018 report by the Prison Policy Initiative. Inclusive career training and fairs are a way to give ex-convicts a smoother transition back into employment, and give businesses the chance to help with the incentive of building their workforce.
“We host many types of events through the year. Fresh Start is just one that we host to target those with employment barriers,” Diane LaChapelle, the Director of Business Services at the Suffolk County Department of Labor, said. “We expect over 20 employers to attend this year.”
The Halo Network, a non-profit organization, sponsors Career Expo every year. Besides focusing on ex-convicts, the company provides programs for those who need extra assistance the homeless and the disabled.
“We help people with criminal pasts find jobs and are running resume workshops – we go over job intention and how to dress and talk in an interview and how to bring up being a criminal during their interview,” Leslie Epps, the network’s program assistant, said. “We’ve been running the reentry program for maybe five years.”
One business looking for employees at the expo is Winter Brothers Waste Management, which sees a benefit in hiring ex-convicts to fill needed positions.
“We are willing to work with the community – we are a family business throughout Long Island and I think it is necessary to give people a second chance,” Sean Cullinan, the company’s human resources generalist, said. “For the business we are looking to supplement numbers – it’s not easy work, but the job is good. It has union benefits and gives people a second chance.”
Other organizations attending the expo, such as Eastern Suffolk BOCES, will be providing educational resources, rather than scouting for employees. Other services who will be educating participants includes the Well Life Network and Express Employment.
“We recently received a grant focused on re-entry of ex-convicts, recently released offenders under training,” Barbara Egloff, the Divisional Administrator for Career, Technical, and Adult Education, said. “We provide ex-convicts from Suffolk County a wraparound service for what they need, with resources and references and ready-set work curriculum and cognitive behavior intervention.”