- 70 Million Jobs, a for-profit employment platform for the formerly incarcerated, announced last week it will shift its business model from that of a job board to a staffing agency.
- The change will allow the firm to better leverage its "position of control" while creating more opportunities for job seekers, it said. Launched in 2017, 70 Million Jobs cited said its community now includes 10 million formerly imprisoned men and women and that it works with companies including Perdue, Berkshire Hathaway, Uber, MOD Pizza and Denny's.
- As a staffing agency, the company will handle several employer-related duties including paying salaries, taxes, insurance and administering background checks. "Our goal is to be the largest employer of people with criminal backgrounds in the United States," Richard Bronson, 70 Million Jobs' founder and CEO, said in a statement.
The decision to become a staffing agency is a notable strategic move for 70 Million Jobs, and may perhaps be reflective of the competitiveness of the job board sector in 2019. Competitors like LinkedIn, Indeed and Google for Jobs have crowded the space and have centralized such work around a handful of key players.
But the company's case for investing in the formerly incarcerated seems to be supported by the messaging of key HR industry players, including the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). In January, SHRM kicked off 2019 in part by announcing an initiative to promote hiring workers with criminal backgrounds, partnering with organizations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Koch Industries. These affiliations drew backlash from some SHRM members, but the organization has doubled down on its hiring pledge; SHRM president and CEO Johnny Taylor later said that helping employers hire those with criminal backgrounds would be one of SHRM's top initiatives for the year.
Businesses and governments are taking steps to remove barriers that may keep former prisoners from landing a job so they can return to society as productive citizens. Some states and municipalities, for example, have passed "ban the box" laws that move questions about criminal records off application forms and into a later part of the hiring process. According to research from Case Western Reserve University, banning the box raised employment rates in high-crime U.S. communities by as much as 4%.
But there are still societal biases and other barriers in corporate America with which advocates must contend, something Bronson — who spent two years in a federal prison — acknowledged. "The negative bias towards people who have made a mistake and served their time cannot be understated," he said. "By perpetuating these biases, we ignore a huge pool of talent in the United States. I am passionate about fighting the stigma that comes with having a criminal background, and am confident that our work is building a more inclusive economy."
Talent shortages in an employee-driven market have driven some employers to expand their talent pools to include the formerly incarcerated. Key to that consideration is the oft-cited FBI estimate that more than 70 million Americans (about 1 in 3) have a criminal record — that's not necessarily a criminal conviction, but still represents a sizable part of the population. Speakers at a recent SHRM event detailed strategies with which employers can improve hiring practices for those with criminal backgrounds.