Category Archives: Employment

What Sticks: Learnings from Fedcap’s 11th Solution Series

Lessons Learned written on chalkboard

On Wednesday, March 30th, Fedcap held its 11th Solution Series—a forum for discussing and forging new strategies and solutions to address the top issues facing people with barriers to economic self-sufficiency.

Each time we hold a Solution Series, I am struck once again by our tagline: The Power of Possible. The “power” comes from gathering a community of business executives, representatives from government agencies and academe, policy makers, providers, and consumers of our services united in the purpose of finding innovative ways to alter the stigma—and the lives—of those of us who face barriers. The “possible” is the creation of an open forum where issues are discussed and the audience leaves enlightened and energized to continue to seek precise and realistic solutions to the tangible and intangible issues that challenge those with barriers. These events are among the many reasons why I love my work and am reminded that every day, our work is improving the lives of those we serve.

The Solution Series on March 30th was one of our best ever. Our goal was to gather a panel to discuss strategies and solutions for supporting individuals in the workplace recovering—or struggling—with substance use disorder or mental illness. Over 150 people, representing 65 businesses came together at the top of the Mutual of America building on Park Avenue in New York, and upwards of 100 attended via live-stream from all over the country. Facilitated by Chief Strategy Officer, Lorrie Lutz, the panel included Matt Sisk, Deputy Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, Brooke Wilson, the director of Resources for Living at Aetna, and Jim Salzano, the CEO of Easy Spirit (a Nine West holding).

Each speaker brought a different perspective to the issues of recovery in the workplace. Brooke Wilson spoke of “presenteeism”—the concept that there are people who show up for work every day, but they are really not present—not contributing at full capacity because they may be wrestling with addiction or mental health issues. She outlined specific things to look for as well as ways to help educate managers, leaders, and co-workers about the warning signs of presenteeism. Brooke’s work at Aetna has been to transform what was formerly known as the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) into a much more open and accessible resource called Resources for Living—with great results including a sizeable increase in people taking advantage of the myriad services offered.

Jim Salzano spoke of his obligation as a leader. He believes that as CEO, his job to serve everyone in the organization to ensure they have what they need—including access to services should they need them. He spoke about creating a culture of support—of trust and vulnerability—that will erase the shame and stigma of mental health and substance use challenges—and replace it with support, education, and access to necessary help. He spoke of the line between “ability” and “disability,” and the wobbliness of that line—suggesting that it may be too rigid to box people into either category.

Matt Sisk spoke openly about his own struggles with addiction in a high-powered post and about what it is like to now sit on the “other” side of the desk, leading a large staff of people and supporting those who need it most with education and access to services.

I am energized by what I learned on March 30th. Joe Giannetto, our Chief Operating Officer, closed the meeting by highlighting the ways the landscape is changing for mental health and addiction and that society’s perspective is undergoing a renewal and hope for the betterment of everyone. I agree with him. I believe that change occurs one conversation at time. The Solution Series is one such conversation. I welcome more conversation and more dialogue about the possibilities for continued movement away from stigma and toward support and integration.

What do you think?

SS 2016

L-R Brook Wilson, Aetna, Jim Salzano, Easy Spirit, Mark O’Donoghue, Fedcap Board Chair, Matt Sisk, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Christine McMahon, CEO Fedcap


Employment As A Key To Reduce Recidivism

To change a community, start with a job.–Roberts Economic Development Fund

According to the 2015 Bureau of Justice statistics, 90% of all incarcerated individuals hope—and expect—to return to their communities as productive citizens.  They expect to have an address. They expect to hold a job.  They believe that they have paid their debt to society as sanctioned by the courts.  Yet the statistics reflect that 74.1% of offenders return to prison within 12 months.  And sixty to 75% of former inmates cannot find work within the first year out of jail. The result is that where there once may have been hope, that hope is quickly dashed when the realities of re-entry unfold.

Re-entry is complicated. As I wrote last week, the majority of those who enter the prison system are afflicted with substance use disorder and/or mental health issues. Many come from backgrounds mired in poverty. Most are stigmatized by virtue of time spent in prison. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to reducing recidivism. However, study after study has proven that previously incarcerated individuals who are employed are less likely to return to prison. Employment is a critical key to reducing recidivism. And, keeping just one inmate from returning to prison will save taxpayers roughly $80,000 per year per person.

If employment is key, then what is getting in the way of ex-offenders finding work and staying in the workforce?

One barrier to economic self-sufficiency is access to resources to help ex-offenders find work. At Fedcap, through our Wildcat Division, we provide transitional employment, vocational/work readiness training and jobs. We get to know those whom we serve—targeting individual skill sets, needs, aspirations—and help set goals. This individual, focused attention makes all the difference in the successful employment of ex-offenders.

In November, 2015, President Obama initiated a measure to eliminate requirements that job applicants check a box on their applications if they have criminal records. This measure, heralded by social justice reformers as the “ban the box” movement, aimed to reduce potential discrimination against former convicts in the hiring process for federal jobs. There is also movement to eliminate a background check early in the job application process to allow employers to meet and get to know a candidate before deliberately tossing the application aside because of an individual’s prison record. These are initiatives worth consideration.

Statistics prove that ex-offenders make good workers. We have experienced this at Fedcap. Giving individuals undivided attention, supporting their skill development, and offering concrete training will bear out that hope that they had before they left prison.

On February 25, Fedcap will be hosting a webinar focused on employment of the previously incarcerated. I urge you to attend, and to save the date for our Solution Series on March 30th which will feature a conversation with businesses who have successfully integrated ex-offenders into the ranks of their workforce. These conversations promise to not only enlighten, but also point to precise interventions that will change not only the life of an ex-offender, but also change our community for the better.

As always, I would love to know your thoughts.