Talent & Tech Asia Summit 2024
Second chances: ViaPath Technologies' Tony Lowden on the untapped potential of the justice-involved to fill labour shortages

Second chances: ViaPath Technologies' Tony Lowden on the untapped potential of the justice-involved to fill labour shortages

Former prison inmates can not only fill labour shortages, but also provide equal or greater value than employees without a criminal record, stresses Lowden.

In the United States alone, over 600,000 justice-involved individuals enter the workforce every year.

With available jobs outnumbering available workers by roughly 3mn, equipping returning citizens to work will make a major change in terms of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).

Tony Lowden, Chief Social Impact Officer, ViaPath Technologies (pictured above) comments: "Returning citizens want to work and have a vested incentive that results in higher-than-average retention rates.
"These same principles apply to all nations, with returning citizens offering corporate leaders a chance to keep their country moving forward as a society and an economy."

In this interview with Arina Sofiah, Lowden delves into how this population is an untapped labour market that can not only fill labour shortages, but also provide equal or greater value than employees without a criminal record.

Note: While the interview responses are mainly in the context of the US, HRO believes the content and insights remain relevant and noteworthy to our readers in Asia.

Q What are some sentiments and real-life case studies you’ve heard from the ground? Do you perhaps notice certain industries or sectors being more conducive to providing such employment opportunities?

A great example of this happened here in the US during the pandemic. In areas like Las Vegas where hospitality and resorts make up a major part of the local economy, COVID-19 created an especially big problem. The Chamber of Commerce decided to work with the Department of Corrections, transitional housing, and community supervision to give jobs to returning citizens. The city never turned back, and now these justice-involved men and women have opportunities that they never had before.

This is also happening across industries. We’re seeing trucking, shipping, welding companies and more taking men and women who were justice-involved and allowing them the opportunity to work and make an honest living.

If we as a society are going to say that we believe in second chances, we have to give people the ability to work and care for their families.

If we as a society are going to say that we believe in second chances, we have to give people the ability to work and care for their families.

Q In what ways are such opportunities being brought to life internally, within the ViaPath workforce?

We’re putting our money where our mouth is.

At ViaPath, we have returning citizens working for us in a major way. As a company, we’ve been pushing for more men and women who can work in this space as forensic peer mentors. They can help us understand how our technology can be more proactive inside prisons, with the goal of better assisting men and women to properly prepare to return home. Our technology – and our mission – is centered around the three Rs of rehabilitation, reintegration and re-entry. We seek to provide the justice-involved with all the necessary tools to equip themselves for a successful return home from the minute they step foot in a facility. All the way from our CEO down to our technicians, everyone’s on board.

Q How are you working with ViaPath’s CHRO to ensure the leadership team, line managers, and even the rest of your internal stakeholders are well-equipped to be a supportive pillar for these individuals, without changing the entire way of work?

We understand that changing people’s lives through criminal justice reform affects all of us. Yes, we’re a technology company, but more importantly, we’re a partner in our communities. This sentiment is echoed up and down the chain of command within ViaPath. Changing people’s lives requires a lot of thought on how we can add value to our communities, which involves every area of leadership on our team.

We at ViaPath realise that our work isn’t just about affecting the lives of the men and women who are coming home, but the people who work for us as well. We offer them hope and a mission that they can get behind.

In that vein, what are some important factors for employers to note to best serve those who were justice-involved once they are hired? How can training and skills development programmes be tailored to meet the needs of individuals who may have skill gaps due to time spent in incarceration?

In the interview process, we have to allow people to get an opportunity to tell their stories. That’s why I’m glad that corporations are increasingly moving to 'ban the box', which removes the need for applicants to disclose their records. When the background check comes back, however, corporations need to give that applicant a chance to share their stories. Some of them were justice-involved as teenagers and simply need an opportunity to tell the story of how they’ve changed.

Continued education must extend into the workforce, especially with those who are justice-involved. Returning citizens don’t come right in and understand the culture of corporate America or a small business.

Employers should implement mentoring programmes to provide the support and encouragement they need to become a part of the team. Doing away with the stigma and embracing returning citizens as a valuable addition to the team is key to successful reentry.

We’d love to get your viewpoint in the Asian context: Seeing that Asia would typically be more conservative, what is the most important first step you’d encourage leaders in the region to take to explore this untapped labour market?

Globally, the first step leaders must take is to leave their biases behind. Fair-chance hiring isn’t a choice between “risky” or “conservative” decision-making. It’s just good business to hire whichever applicant is the best fit.

That’s exactly why we’re encouraging employers not to write off applicants simply because of their past.

Leaders open to fair-chance hiring should familiarise themselves with the resources available to support them and their new hires throughout the process. For instance, in Singapore, employers might be eligible for Uplifting Employment Credit (UEC) for hiring ex-offenders. Businesses operating in Asia have a variety of local programmes and organisations that they can partner with to ensure a smooth transition for their corporation and their employees.

Understanding and utilising these offerings is the key to effectively implementing fair-chance hiring practices.

Wherever you go, people want the chance to provide for themselves and their families. By giving returning citizens a second chance, we can strengthen economies, create safer communities, and change the narrative for generations to come.

Q Could you tell us about a time you felt most fulfilled and affirmed about what you do in your role as Chief Social Impact Officer? How does this guide you as you continue to grow and impact lives in this role?

The most rewarding part of this work is seeing parents reuniting with their children and knowing that they are bringing hope to the family as they break the cycle of families going in and out of prison. It’s seeing people get off drugs and want to go back home and take care of their families. I grew up in one of the worst ghettos in America, where the majority of the men and women were justice-involved, so this work is personal for me.

You’ll find slums or ghettos in every country around our world. People just want help. At ViaPath, it’s not about the paycheck; it’s about the opportunity to make a difference. We need to become servant leaders with a servant’s heart and a passion for helping other people – that’s my goal.

Photo / Provided

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