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How a $2.9m startup is trying to become the LinkedIn for formerly incarcerated people

yOnathan Travis should have had an easy time finding work. The Baytown, Texas, native is an experienced welder with several building certifications – the kind of background that usually means stable work, good pay, and solid benefits. But having a record in prison changed everything.

In January, Mr. Travis terminated a sentence of drug possession. Tell independent He would regularly go to late job interviews as soon as he was out, or until he was fully hired, but would later be turned down once it was time for the inevitable security check.

“As soon as my background came out,” he said, “they told me it was okay.” “I’ve been given two different jobs, basically. I can’t go to recruitment agencies. I couldn’t even get into Domino’s Pizza.”

Employers told him he could not be hired until his convictions were at least 4 or 5 years in the past, which means it will take years before he can find work again at the lucrative oil plants in Baytown.

“All the major factories are in my town,” he said, “I can’t get into any of them because I can’t pass.”

<p>Jonathan Travis faced barriers finding work as a welder because of his past convictions. </p>

Jonathan Travis faced obstacles in finding work as a welder due to his previous convictions.

(Jonathan Travis)

Finally, Mr. Travis found his way to honest jobsa startup that hopes to become Indeed or LinkedIn for ex-prisoners and struggles Widespread employment discrimination Many face as soon as they get out of prison. Within weeks, Mr. Travis tied up a job as a welder with benefits in Houston.

“The job is really good,” he said. “It’s a really good place to work. I got 401k and insurance for me and my daughter and other things.”

Founded in 2018, Honest Jobs has 850 employees on its platform including well-known names like Amazon, Pepsi, and Koch Industries, and has worked with more than 27,000 job seekers.

But the company’s work cut short. Nearly a third of the working population in the United States, or 78 million adults, have some form of prior criminal charge or conviction on their record. Nine out of ten employers Request background checkswhich usually consider previous contact with the justice system.

As a result, this means that people who get out of prison often cannot get a legal job, with dire consequences. as such independent Reported earlier this year, people who have prior contact with the justice system are 10 times more likely Being uninhabited by the general public, and having a median wage of just over $10,000 in the first year after incarceration. Faced with very few opportunities, More than half of people previously detained Return to prison in the United States at some point in their lives.

Mr. Travis was able to help one of his friends from prison get a job at the same company, but not everyone was so lucky.

“Basically, people go out, they can’t get a job, they go back to what they were doing making money in the beginning, selling drugs, whatever it is,” he said. “Everyone I talk to, just like the two of them are still clean and not doing what they were doing before.”

It’s the cycle of poverty and recidivism that Honest Jobs founder Harley Blakeman knows from personal experience.

He grew up in a trailer park outside Gainesville, Florida, with a mother who left the family for periods of time and struggled with drugs. When Mr. Blackman was a teenager, his father died in a motorcycle accident.

The founder became homeless and left high school at the age of sixteen. He continued to take and sell drugs, a lifestyle that at least allowed him to buy his own car and rent an apartment.

“Most of the people living in my hometown were either drug addicts or had a criminal record. It was kind of a desperate and sad place, but it represented America.” “I hold myself accountable for everything in my life. Of course there were other options but it was Dollar General, McDonald’s, and gas stations. No one from my high school went to college.”

He was soon booked on drug charges and sent to prison, where he began trying to turn things around. Mr. Blakeman got his GED and read every business and personal development book he could.

Once out, he went to community college and became a straight student, all while working around the clock at various low-paying jobs. He managed to enter Ohio State University, where he studied business administration and graduated with honors.

After graduation, he thought he was finally back on the right track, but after 80 or so job interviews in the second and third rounds came back with a refusal, Mr. Blackman began to realize that having a record made it nearly impossible for him to start his career.

“It was devastating,” he said. I owe $62,000. I have just spent 4 and a half years of my life working nonstop to prove that I can be trusted and do the work. I had spent 400 hours of community service and had complied with the terms of the test. I’ve done it all. The truth is, in America, I’m a white American, with a good education, a support system, and a 780 credit score — if I can’t get a job because I have a record, everyone else in the criminal justice system is pretty screwed up. “

Finally, he manages to find work in a manufacturing company, but the horrific experience inspired Mr. Blackman to use his entrepreneurial drive and work experience and help other previously imprisoned people.

Notably, Honest Jobs is free for job seekers – a very important feature given the extreme poverty that many people enter once they leave the prison gates. The site uses a job matching algorithm to suggest jobs to candidates, telling job seekers how likely they are to pass the company’s background check requirements before applying. The idea is to spare them the kind of sudden denial that Mr. Blackman and Mr. Travis have suffered.

According to company data, the average user finds a job in less than a month – six times faster than other job search methods, with a salary almost three times higher.

“I think this is a very useful way to continue to realize the American Dream,” Blackman said. “I almost gave up on the American dream… It’s a huge opportunity for our GDP and macroeconomy, but I also think it’s very personal that so many people in prison were abused as children. They watched parents do drugs. They watched their parents fight. No They don’t have parents around. It’s a mental health issue. It’s limited access to a real ladder out of poverty, and we can give people a chance to stabilize enough to heal.”

It is a promotion that clearly resonates with investors. In January, Honest Jobs closed a Investment round of 1.5 million dollarsThe company has raised $2.9 million to date, and employs 18 people full time. The startup is looking to raise another $8 or $10 million this year.

And big companies like JPMorgan are behind the so-called “Second chance“Recruitment, hiring practices that do not automatically exclude people just because they have been in the justice system.

As for Jonathan Travis, he says he is grateful to have found a decent job and spend more time with his daughter. He wants his story to inspire other people affected by justice that opportunities exist, if you have some help finding them. He hopes that people will realize the deep connection between incarceration and employment.

“If you can’t get a job, it’s a course,” he said.

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