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Overcoming a Criminal Background

1/30/2019 3:00:00 PM

One of the most difficult employment barriers to overcome is having a criminal background – and it’s not as uncommon as some may think. According to We Are All Criminals, one in four individuals has a criminal record, whether is it a single incident or multiple offenses over time. Despite efforts to mitigate the impact of having a criminal past, such as Ban the Box regulations passed in Minnesota, one’s criminal history is still publicly available online and can easily be accessed by employers.

Several factors may make this barrier more or less severe, such as:

  • Type and severity of the crime,
  • Number of offenses,
  • How recent the last conviction was,
  • Steps an individual has taken toward self-improvement/rehabilitation since the offense, and
  • Whether they learned a valuable life lesson.

However, a criminal background is a barrier that can be surmounted, and many individuals with past criminal transgressions end up not only gaining employment, but ultimately having successful careers. 

Often, the sticking point is finding that first job after being convicted of an offense. One piece of advice that can be offered is to find ANY job at first. While it might not be the dream job, the important thing to realize and accept is that this is just a starting point – one in which an individual can move on to a better job and, eventually, a career.

One key to success is remaining future-focused. While the first job may be in the ‘secondary sector’ (i.e., low-paying, part-time, and/or second and third shifts) and not ideal, it is just the first step to future success. This can be labeled as the ABCs of employment success after a criminal conviction – Anything, Better, and then a Career (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The ABCs of Employment Success with a Criminal Background

For that first job, certain occupational groups may be more accommodating to individuals with criminal backgrounds. And while it may be discouraging to feel limited to certain occupational groups, this is just the beginning and the employment can be temporary. The first job is an opportunity to develop a good work reputation, do some networking, and gain valuable references for future employment opportunities and/or promotions.

Five occupational groups that may be more accommodating are production; transportation and warehousing; installation, maintenance and repair; construction and extraction; and building and grounds cleaning and maintenance. These five groups make up over one-quarter of the total employment in the Southeast region, with production itself being the third largest employing occupational group at 11.0 percent (Table 1).

Table 1. Percent of Total Employment by Occupational Groups that are Accommodating to Workers with Criminal Backgrounds – Southeast MN

Similar to the current employment numbers, the number of vacancies in these five occupational groups comprise over one-quarter of the total job vacancies in the region according to DEED’s Job Vacancy Survey. These data, outlined in Table 2, also indicate that not all of these potential jobs have secondary sector characteristics. As mentioned, part-time hours and low pay are characteristic of secondary sector jobs, but the data show most of these openings are full-time, such as only 10 percent of vacancies in production and 11 percent in installation, maintenance and repair offering part-time hours. In addition, four of the five groups have wages greater than what is needed to meet the basic needs cost of living in Southeast Minnesota, which currently sits at $16.17 for the typical family (two parents, one working full-time and one working part-time, with one child). Transportation and material moving, for example, is currently seeing a median wage offer of $20.02 (Table 2).

Table 2. Job Vacancies in Occupational Groups that are Accommodating to Workers with Criminal Backgrounds – Southeast MN, 2nd QTR, 2018

While having a criminal background can be a seemingly unconquerable barrier to gaining employment, this is not typically the case. One key to overcoming this barrier is finding that first job – any job – after conviction. From there, data show that in the Southeast region, plenty of solid employment opportunities in certain occupational groups exist that may be more accepting of applicants with criminal backgrounds.

For More Information

Contact Mark Schultz.

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