Challenges, benefits of hiring ex-cons in recycling

Challenges, benefits of hiring ex-cons in recycling

Homeboy Electronics Recycling offers advice on how to work with formerly incarcerated personnel and offer second chances.

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June 3, 2019

Hiring formerly incarcerated personnel offers rewards and fills gaps in labor shortages, but it comes with different challenges that employers need to be aware of. 

Homeboy Electronics Recycling, Los Angeles, has been offering second chances to formerly incarcerated personnel since it launched in 2011. The company received R2 (Responsible Recycling Practices) certification in 2015. The company was originally called Isidore Electronics Recycling when it opened. It was later acquired by Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that offers re-entry services to formerly incarcerated people, including job training.

Kabira Stokes, founder and CEO of Homeboy Electronics Recycling, says it’s important for recyclers interested in trying this hiring approach to connect with a local nonprofit to find the labor. 

“Really find a nonprofit in your community that you can go to who will send you folks who are ready to work and want to work. That’s your best bet,” she says. 

Homeboy Electronics Recycling partnered with Homeboy Industries. As an electronics recycler that offers secure destruction services, Stokes also ensures that none of the employees she receives have committed identity theft. 

Chris Zwicke, chief operating officer at Homeboy Electronics Recycling, says taking this approach to hiring can’t just be an afterthought. He says a company needs to be entirely committed to pursuing this avenue of labor. 

“It ultimately has to be integrated in the culture of the company,” he says. “It’s not an easy bolt-on, but it has a lot of benefits.”

In addition, employers who want to work with formerly incarcerated personnel need to have a lot of patience. “You need sympathy and patience,” says Xuong “X” Cam, triage supervisor at Homeboy Electronics Recycling. “Understand that they probably never had a legitimate job before.” 

Cam was formerly incarcerated from when he was 15 to 33, and he came to Stokes’ company in 2014 through the Homeboy Industries program. He says a mentor helped him as he started with the company to learn how to follow a set schedule and balance his responsibilities. 

He notes that there are some basic job skills that he and others coming into the program didn’t know, such as how to file W-2s properly. 

He adds that sometimes formerly incarcerated personnel lack a strong work ethic and may think it’s acceptable to miss a full day of work if the bus is late or they have a morning court appointment. Cam advises any employers interested in hiring formerly incarcerated personnel to enforce strict rules to ensure these workers understand the company’s expectations.

“Depending on the program you set up, you have to be strict with it,” Cam says. “You’ll get pushback. But they’re used to regiment programs because of incarceration, so reinforce rules. We have to teach them that if their bus is late, that’s not always an acceptable excuse to be late for work. Teach them to take an earlier bus, or that their doctor’s appointment doesn’t have to take all day.” 

Read more about Homeboy Electronics Recycling in the June issue of Recycling Today.