Hidden Workforce is Largely Neglected: Are You Ready to Drop Background Checks?

By Lyn Dean, writer and editor at ALCC and CNGA

Neal Glatt, managing partner and co-founder of GrowTheBench.com

Neal Glatt, managing partner and co-founder of GrowTheBench.com, shifted his attention to consulting in 2017 and provides coaching services for business leaders and teams. His focus on green industry companies evolved from both his professional success at a snow management company coupled with his personal desire to help others find their own success.

The Scramble for Talent

Glatt knows it is getting harder to hire workers. Even as interest rates have risen to slow the economy, jobs are still being added. “More than 10.3 million jobs in the U.S. remain unfilled and unemployment is near historically low at 6.0 million,” he says.

Seasonal businesses, which include most in the green industry, particularly feel the challenge because their window of operation is necessarily limited by season and climate. Many rely on hiring H-2B foreign workers, but as most business owners have learned, H-2B workers are not a reliable solution—the number of H-2B workers allowed in the program is less than the demand, and numerous businesses receive either fewer workers than expected, or none.

Overlooked Untapped Talent Pool

“We have a unique opportunity in the green industry because of the structuring of a lot of the work. There is a largely ‘untapped talent pool’ that could benefit the green industry and other industries,” Glatt suggests. “Formerly incarcerated people can be recruited.”

At least as important as benefiting companies by helping fill the labor gap, hiring formerly incarcerated people hugely benefits these former prisoners. It is difficult for formerly incarcerated people to find jobs with enough pay to support themselves. Glatt points out that The Prison Policy Institute reports—after a four-year study—that the jobless rate of people recently released from prison hovered at about 60%. “If a company could specifically target this group to recruit and retain, they could have a reliable source of labor,” he says.

Open Hiring Gets Results and Loyalty

Glatt knows business owners can be hesitant. He asks them to put aside pre-conceived notions and not become jaded by what we hear about the bad experiences and profiles of the incarcerated, such as being addicts. For businesses, it means rethinking their approach to hiring as well as their approach to how they treat fellow human beings.

In Glatt’s experience—both with his own clients as well as companies he has learned about—hiring formerly incarcerated people often leads to immense loyalty from these employees. One green industry company reported 90% reduction in hiring costs by eliminating hurdles in the traditional hiring process and accepting the first viable candidate in a more open process.

The Body Shop, a well-known international body care products company, reports that this hiring process led to a 60% decrease in turnover while productivity increased 13% in just one season. Fast Company magazine reports that when The Body Shop piloted the new hiring program, job applicants for the U.S. distribution center were asked just three questions: Are you authorized to work in the U.S.? Can you stand for up to eight hours? And can you lift over 50 pounds? The success of the pilot program led the company to expand open hiring practices to retail outlets and strive to hire the first person who applies for the job.

“This concept of ‘open hiring’ seems extreme to many business owners,” Glatt realizes. “Yet, if someone can legally work, they should be able to get a decent job.” One of his clients, who was struggling with getting applicants, rewrote the job offering to remove requirements including background checks and driving record checks while adjusting the tone to match that of customer advertisements. The client was “flooded with applicants” almost immediately, and found these employees to be loyal and committed.

Are People Who We Think They Are?

“I believe people’s performance is determined by our thoughts about them,” says Glatt. “Each new hire needs to be approached with fresh optimism.” Plenty of research, in addition to Glatt’s own work with children in foster care, supports his belief.

Business owners and managers may need to make significant mental and emotional adjustments to embrace this mindset. Glatt suggests there is value in not telling employees, including crew leaders, that a new hire was formerly incarcerated. Rather, he thinks it is better for co-workers “to discover on their own, who these people are, without bias.”

When Glatt was working as a snow removal contractor he helped find the workers needed to staff client locations. A client once remarked that she assumed all the on-site workers had had background checks, and was “mortified to hear that none were done.” In this case, Glatt reminded the client that the workers would be shoveling during the night when there were no customers, and whether drug addict or criminal, he would ensure they came to work and were sober. “When these people were trusted to do the work, they did, and they did a good job. And the client was happy to participate in giving back to society, once she understood our effort to help others, by not asking questions, was intentional.”

In Glatt’s experience, clients usually come around and realize they are part of a triple-win situation that includes their business, the formerly incarcerated workers, and society. They are giving a typically overlooked group a chance to integrate and contribute. That said, he admits that he has—once or twice—fired clients whose values clash because they don’t see the advantages of bettering society.

Those who want to learn more can visit CNGA.GrowTheBench.com to access free courses. For learning new hiring techniques and strategies, CNGA recommends Neal’s free course “Recruiting Talent.” Neal can be reached at Neal@NealGlatt.com and you can learn more about his services at www.NealGlatt.com.