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Offender Placement: Are we doing the best we can with transitional employment?

By Loretta Smith

My staff and I work with a difficult client group. All of our clients are offenders, and we are mandated to work with the offenders based on risk. Within provincial correctional institutions, we generally do not program the low-risk; we focus on the medium and high- risks offenders. We work with the offenders who do not walk into employment agencies unless it is a Court Ordered requirement. My staff are trained in Motivational Interviewing, Career Counselling, Core Correctional Practices, etc. They endeavour to prepare high-risk offenders to become jobseekers.

My title is Manager of Offender Employment. My job description states that I am “responsible for the creation, development and maintenance of a provincial policy framework … for the direction and development and implementation of programs and services across the adult corrections branch that are meant to ensure offender employment initiatives are appropriately aligned….to reduce recidivism….” The description provides expectations of a lofty goal, but realistically my job does not really encompass all that is suggested. However, within this job description, it has given me the opportunity to work with many employment/career counselling agencies throughout the province, both community-based agencies, government-funded agencies and other Ministries.

This has also allowed me to share best practices from Corrections and Career Development. Some excellent research and “white papers” have been published within the Corrections domain on how to use Employment to reduce recidivism. A careful blending of the best practices from both disciplines provides an excellent step-by-step guide on how to address job readiness and sustainable employment for offenders. One important acknowledgement is needed – it takes time. A high-risk offender is not going to be ready for sustainable employment after a few months without job retention support services for a considerable time.

What we attempt to do first is to address motivation using some recognized best practice tools (i.e. Motivational Interviewing) and then develop basic pre-employability skills, moving on to career decision- making prior to advancing to employment. Realistically, this group needs to be placed into employment or funded skills enhancement as soon as possible after release from incarceration. Corrections research indicates that to reduce reoffending corrections, clients need financial support as soon as possible. Although I have some ideas of how we should work with multi-barrier offenders in each of the Employability Dimensions, for this blog I want to address transitional employment. Here are my suggestions:

Here are my suggestions:

  • Transitional jobs should be wage-paying jobs that combine real work, skills development and support services to help clients overcome barrier/learn skills and to enable clients to move into sustainable employment. They are intended to be temporary.
  • Transitional jobs should only be used with developing an “identified skill” and should not be used as a résumé filler in most cases
  • Promoting long-term employment stability over immediate job stability is important

 

I recognize that some of the above seem to conflict – i.e. promoting longer-term employment vs. time-limited transitional jobs, and I recognize given the present labour market, sometimes – any job, especially for a client with multiple barriers can be difficult to find.
In Canadian Corrections research, it states that “…stability of employment is a stronger risk factor than is level of unemployment. In particular, criminal behaviour increases with frequent unemployment and longer periods of unemployment.” (Andrews, D.A. & Bonta, James. The Psychology of Criminal Conduct. page 265). This research creates a concern on how we use short-term employment (i.e. transitional employment). I have some ideas…

The way I envision the “ideal” transitional placement is as a defined career goal, let’s say a client desiring to be a motorcycle mechanic (NOC7334-National Occupation Classification). However, the client’s skills and abilities do not meet the requirements for this job and the only job placements that are available for the client with multiple barriers are either at a fast food restaurant or as stocking clerk at a local department store. An employment counsellor would look at the WES (Workplace Essential Skills) needed for a motorcycle mechanic and at the skills the client already has. Perhaps the client needs to develop skills in the areas of oral communication and problem solving or perhaps job task planning and organizing. Using a “transitional placement” as a worker at a fast food restaurant can assist in developing these skills. Success will only occur if the client can see a link to their end goal and the purpose of a transitional placement.

I think more focus is needed on the development of Career Counselling language to be shared and understood by the client. Our clients would benefit with more awareness of the NOC and WES to understand what transferable skills are, etc. If the client understands that transitional employment is more than just résumé filler and some immediate cash, and can see it as part of the “bigger picture,” it may act as an incentive to maintain employment. Action plans should be focused on development of and embedded with the language of the WES related to the career goal. It is also important that when the client “achieves” this skill development goal that they are not left in employment without a plan to move on to the next skill-building (related to the end goal) transitional employment opportunity.

We have some wonderful successes with Corrections clients, but where there has been less success, the following is where I see problems have occurred…

1. There hasn’t been sufficient time to address the domain of career decision-making. Clients are often directed into vocational training for which funding is available rather than having a clear work/learning goal.
2. They are placed into jobs that they do not see a link to/or doesn’t match their ultimate action plan goal.
3. The follow-up or employment guidance ends at the time of training or employment placement occurs or if there is follow-up, it is very limited.

 

Our high-risk clients with multiple barriers frequently get derailed and if they have lost contact with their employment counsellor, they may be unwilling to initiate contact again. My observations match research that shows high-risk clients can stay in their initial employment for a term, but at six months, one year and subsequent time periods, they increasingly become unemployed. It is my belief, if the client cannot see value in maintaining the present employment (beyond financial) then it will not become sustainable employment. Sustainable employment can be reached by a positive convergence of the social, environmental and economic domains. Research also indicates positive relationships with fellow employees and supervisors trump economic rewards.

What our clients need first is sufficient time and guidance to establish a long-term career plan and, second, a clearly established plan to address the necessary WES through periods of transitional employment or education. If this is accomplished, the chances of maintaining long-term employment and achieving the end goal is a greater possibility.

It is my belief that with the sharing and understanding of career development language, the success of developing WES related to the final goal, a positive relationship with a career development specialist and an action plan developed to include short-term employment as a goal to reach the final target, the structured use of short-term employment may mitigate the risk of unplanned frequent unemployment. An action plan that includes several short-term employment periods working towards an end goal will assist in developing longer-term employment stability.

 

Biography

Loretta Smith, has worked with Saskatchewan Provincial Corrections for 26 years. For the past 10 years she has worked towards rehabilitation of offenders through Career Development. In 2011, she obtained her Offender Workforce Development Training and is presently awaiting her GCF certification.

Lucie Morillon
Lucie Morillon is the Bilingual Content & Communications Co-ordinator for CERIC. With a passion for quality content, she connects with her online communities and provides strong resources to engage members – and always encourages new ones to get involved. She identifies, creates and curates the content destined for the ContactPoint website, the weekly CareerWise newsletter and Careering magazine.

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