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The Best Leaders Have A Criminal Record

The Best Leaders Have a Criminal Record

Imagine receiving a resume that says “Detail-oriented Manager with experience successfully managing a modern agricultural production, distribution, and retail operation. Ensured the marketing, delivery, and sale of branded products to thousands of happy repeat clients throughout Canada. Delivered consistent profits with annual revenue growth rates exceeding 10%”
With the estimated annual marijuana market in Canada at 8.7 billion Dollars, there are thousands of talented people like the imaginary job applicants who have developed and supplied this market for decades. Many of these people and their clients who are great potential employees, yet have one glaring drawback a criminal record.
Where are the statistics that say people with a criminal record make for bad employees? As we start 2018 when Canada is legalizing marijuana and we will have thousands of people who were convicted of minor drug offences that may be ineligible for jobs, due to decisions that if made today would not be a problem. By July 1st those who have been convicted of many marijuana growing, distribution and possession convictions will be in a bit of a catch 22.
Are we going to be in a situation where we are not going to hire great candidates that could transform our businesses or organizations, due to doing something that is now legal? Will we pass over people who made mistakes that politicians and Canadians now say we now support? What would you say if one of the largest employment studies has shown that convicted criminal records not only make better employees but had higher retention rates and made for better leaders? Let me build a case for challenging your assumptions about relying on criminal background checks to screen out employees.
With over 23% of Canadian men and 4.3% of women in Canada having a criminal record, we are looking at 3.8 million people with criminal records, according to the John Howard Society. Additionally, a large percentage of people who have criminal records are Indigenous, meaning that criminal record checks could disproportionately disadvantage this population. Of the 3.8 million, the Minister of Health estimates 500,000 have minor drug offences.
Although human rights legislation varies from province to province, as well as enforcement and use of criminal record checks, the fact remains that tens of thousands of job advertisements online today outline that criminal record checks will be done. This means millions of Canadians who simply don’t apply for jobs because they know their past mistakes could come back to haunt them.
Faced with high employment levels in the 2000’s and the need to support deployed troops overseas the US army decided to relax the requirements for hiring recruits. Hiring 4,862 convicted felons from 2002-2009, Harvard University analyzed these recruits length of service, promotions, and reasons for separation and compared them to 1.3 million enlistees without felony convictions.
What the study showed is those with criminal records were not more likely to be terminated before completing their contracts and not more likely to face disciplinary action. On the other hand, the rates of promotion for US Army recruits with felony conviction were 5% more likely to achieve promotions and they were also promoted quicker than their non-felon counterparts. Basically, those who had committed and been convicted of major a crime outpaced their peers in successful mobility in the US Army.
To have one group of individuals outperform others is pretty impressive. Some will start to list off reasons why “in the Army……” but the plain truth is these employees performed as well or better than their colleagues. Yes, some employment environments may be more relaxed and less structured but given the chance, a person who has built good habits in one environment will carry them into their next. The likelihood of hiring a top performing employee is a pretty convincing argument to try out a candidate, even if we were not facing high employment and war for talent.
Canada also has a very compelling reason why employers should consider rehabilitated people: CORCAN. Correction Canada has a non-profit organization CORCAN that offers employment training and employability skills to offenders in federal correctional institutions. The organization produces thousands of job-ready employees every year. Trained by professionals and working day in and day out are thousands of people within Canada’s prisons that are working in fields that include construction, maintenance and manufacturing.
CORCAN is a self-funding organization that partners with Corrections Canada to maintain and build facilities but also with private and not for profit sector partners. From building housing for Habitat for Humanity, to manufacturing office furniture to rebuilding military ambulances CORCAN is an organization that uses the skills of professionals to train and develop those with an aptitude and an interest.
CORCAN’s people are selected as being some of the best and low-risk offenders. These individuals work hard for very low wages to learn new skills and keep busy during incarceration. Among the skills that offenders gain are skilled trade and apprenticeship hours for Residential Framing Technician, Welder, Industrial Mechanic (Millwright), Painter, Carpenter, Electrician, Plumber and Cabinetmaker
As unemployment levels continue to drop in Canada below 6% as we move into 2018, employers in Southern Ontario and British Columbia are experiencing a tightening of available talent. Employers are complaining that it is tough to even get people to show up for interviews much less to find new employees to hire. Turning to those with a criminal record and even those recently released from prison is a really good option.
In the US employers and politicians are increasingly realizing that the 70 million Americans with a criminal record deserve employment and are turning to both legislative and business solutions. One example led by Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York, has created a pledge that 80 companies have signed on to commit to considering hiring qualified candidates with criminal convictions.
In the US the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Association, has been a leading voice for those with a criminal record even funding studies that promote the ROI of hiring those with a criminal record. Two example the ACLU site are: Total Wine & More, where HR found that annual turnover was on average 12.2 percent lower for employees with criminal records. Electronic Recyclers International (ERI) saw a similar outcome: by adopting a program to recruit employees with criminal histories it reduced turnover from 25 percent to just 11 percent.
The US also provides a financial incentive to employers in the form of a tax credit for hiring those with a criminal. Under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit a maximum tax credit of $2,400 per employee is available a program that runs until at least 2019.  In researching for this article we found no evidence the US Government tax overhaul targeted the program and we found no similar incentives in Canada.
So there is a business case and movement to hire people with criminal records but there is also a social case. By helping one gain employment we greatly reduce the risk that people will re-offend. In Canada, John Howard Society places the chances of someone re-offending at half as much if they are unemployed. This reduces crime in our communities and reduces the cost to victims of crime, police, courts and our prison systems.

Kael Campbell is President and Lead Recruiter of Red Seal Recruiting Solutions, a company providing recruitment services in mining, equipment and plant maintenance, utilities, manufacturing, construction, and transportation. When he is not recruiting, Kael spends as much time as possible with family in the great outdoors and on the water. He volunteers his time as a Board Member of the Entrepreneurs Organization of Victoria and a Member of Victoria Marine Search and Rescue. You are invited to subscribe to our employer newsletter or submit your resume.