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Prioritizing Onboarding for Fair Opportunity Applicants

In a conversation with Breakthrough staff, Kate Lloyd, Program Director at Mile High Workshop, highlighted the importance of walking alongside new hires with a history of incarceration when onboarding them to your organization. Mile High Workshop provides opportunities for folks coming out of incarceration, homelessness, and addiction as they find their next steps, from getting their next job to helping them connect to school or training, and as a result, the organization has deep expertise in supporting individuals during important periods of transition.

Lloyd emphasized the importance of understanding the cultural contexts an individual may be transitioning out of, sharing, “Some of our folks have been incarcerated for twenty plus years, so there’s a lot of things they might have picked up along the way that might be… not serving them very well out here. So the transition can be bumpy at times back into the workforce. We know that a lot of our folks before, during, or after their incarceration have also faced trauma. And so that’s an interesting component to add into how we’re meeting someone for the first time and how we’re introducing ourselves and how we start that relationship”.

Mile High Workshop’s solution is setting the right tone and culture for your new hire. Two steps to work towards this goal are creating a collaborative environment with people first values and making it clear that the person who is conducting onboarding is there to provide support. Lloyd also recommends educating your staff to be trauma informed, so they have more skills to understand particular behaviors people who have experienced trauma may demonstrate.

It’s common for new hires to describe onboarding to a new job as “drinking from a fire hose”, and with justice involved hires it is especially important to avoid processes of this kind. Consider expanding onboarding by one day, or covering less topics in each session with a new hire. This ensures your new employee has time to digest the policies and forms you are presenting to them and the opportunity to ask helpful questions.

Finally, Lloyd emphasizes onboarding as an opportunity to help your new hire find purpose in the organization, to understand your mission, and to see how their role will advance that cause. Lloyd contrasted this with traditional attitudes around onboarding, pointing out, “A lot of businesses approach employees as replaceable pieces of their organization, but when someone knows that they’re important and valued, their whole perspective can shift about their work. So onboarding is the perfect opportunity to let someone know that they matter to your organization and that their work affects the rest of the community”.