top of page

Engaging Nontraditional Manufacturing Talent: Returning Justice-Involved Citizens

Article written by Chris Cunningham, PhD, UC Foundation Professor of Psychology, and Spencer Paulson, Lead Working Group Facilitator & Graduate Assistant, Industrial and Organizational Psychology Department, both from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.


Returning justice-involved citizens are those who are integrating back into society after a period of incarceration. The stigma experienced by these individuals is often negative, therefore leaving this talent group out of the potential talent market. For the manufacturing industry, there is a great opportunity to hire members of this population and help these individuals re-integrate into society through meaningful work. This is only possible, though, if the stigma surrounding these individuals is changed and if they are provided with the proper resources. This was another focal group discussed by subject matter experts (SMEs) at the Smart Workforce Conference held in December 2022. For details on this event and the methods used to gather the information summarized in this post, please check out the first post in this series.


What is the manufacturing industry doing well to reach this talent group?

The SMEs in this working group noted that the manufacturing industry is among the few industries providing opportunities for returning justice-involved citizens to come back to work. Some organizations will exclude those with a criminal past from applying and working for them, but the manufacturing industry is more generally selecting and hiring citizens who may have records of minor offenses to work in their companies. Some organizations are taking this a step further and partnering with prisons to help incarcerated individuals get proper job training to integrate back into society upon release. Some of these training courses target manufacturing-specific skills, while others are designed to improve job searching success (for example how to search for a job using internet-based services). One interesting technique being utilized by various industries is hosting job fairs for members of this population that help them to develop a professional network and get exposure to work-related opportunities. Each of these strategies can help manufacturing organizations to signal a desire to hire from within this potential talent pool.


What is the manufacturing industry not doing well to accommodate this talent group?

This working group recognized that while efforts to integrate members of this talent group back into the workforce and society are improving, many barriers remain. As this working group noted, stigmas persist in the hiring process and candidates with any form of criminal record are often passed over for other, non-justice-involved candidates. Even when companies institute policies to hire members of this population, the success of those policies is contingent upon difficult-to-achieve consistent adherence by hiring managers, driven by clear communication being trickled down from executives.


At the societal level across most industries, a barrier for returning justice-involved citizens to overcome is accessing the resources they need to be a competitive job applicant. Examples of such resources include professional clothing, transportation, and even shelter, which all affect the ability to apply for jobs or even show up for work. Returning citizens also often lack knowledge, skill, and ability resources such as resume writing and interviewing skills, that are entry requirements for many jobs. While some organizations are helping to provide access to these resources, the need or demand far outstrips the supply, and many members of this talent group are left to fend for themselves.


What can the manufacturing industry do better to attract and retain this type of talent?

Attracting and retaining members of this population will require more than policy changes. What is required is a more complete shift in perceptions about what it means to be a justice-involved individual and the value these individuals can create for manufacturing companies – this is easier said than done. The best place to start is at the level of individual organizations, with a focus on education efforts to reduce negative stigmas about members of this population. Such efforts will involve educating existing employees about the company’s desired mission to help returning justice-involved individuals to reintegrate into society by providing an opportunity for a fresh start. Contrary to common fears, most justice-involved individuals are not violent offenders; the majority of returning justice-involved citizens served time for drug-related offenses. For more detailed information about the composition of this population, check out the information available through the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons via this link.


In addition, there is a need to more broadly help this population to learn how to be successful job applicants for manufacturing positions. It may be unrealistic for single manufacturing organizations to provide such training on a large scale, but industry coalitions and partnerships involving multiple manufacturing companies and social service non-profits could help in a major way. Through these types of partnerships, manufacturing organizations can create talent pipelines while having an easier time reaching this demographic. If successful, manufacturing organizations can address more of its hiring needs while also providing needed stability and structure to an under-engaged talent population.

This report highlights the importance of diverse talent in the manufacturing industry and suggests strategies for manufacturers to recruit and retain underrepresented groups such as immigrants. Learn more about this, and other, non-traditional talent groups, and how manufacturers can retain them by downloading our report, The New Collar Worker Requirements.





37 views0 comments
bottom of page