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Opening the Door to Reentry

The Workforce Connect Manufacturing Sector Partnership formed in 2019. A group of regional manufacturing leaders convened and took on the tasks of helping set priorities for the intermediary team, determine the program’s scope of work and identify populations that can benefit from manufacturing careers.

At the time, Towards Employment estimated more than 3,000 individuals return to the community from the criminal justice system every year in Cuyahoga County alone. With that fact, the leadership team identified that engaging deeply with people coming out of or who have a past with the criminal justice system was important. And Andrew Jackson, CEO of Elsons International, was excited to lead this initiative.

We’ve previously blogged about Towards Employments’ ability to develop and administer the ACCESS manufacturing program. But before that program could even be funded and brought to life, Workforce Connect’s leadership needed to fully understand the value of and how returning citizens could make great manufacturing employees. Jackson advocated for pursuing this strategy, because even before the formation of the Manufacturing Sector Partnership, he had been hiring from the re-entry population. He could articulate with first-hand experience why this practice was critical. “I know that an ex-offender is oftentimes shunned in the community because they have a record; but I believe that if you made a mistake you deserve a chance, and we give second chances,” Jackson said. “We’ve found that to be very productive in our environment.”

Jackson’s empathy for those in the re-entry population stems from his early days. “I come from some very humble beginnings. I tell people I’m a have and a have-not,” he says. “What I mean is that I may have accomplished some things in life, but I have not forgotten what it is to be down in life.”

The same empathy that drives his hiring practices shines through his work with the ACCESS program’s curriculum and how he helped shape ACCESS to meet the needs of employers, best serve jobseekers and leverage the existing workforce development assets where possible.

“If you know anything about an ex-offender who is really determined to change their life, they’re going to be a better worker than the average person,” Jackson says. “From a selfish perspective, I know that if this is the right person, they’re going to show up on time, they’re going to work a little harder, and they’re going to be a great employee because they are going to invest in making their lives better.”

These experiences and sentiments resonated with others in the room, specifically Pete Accorti, Talan Products president; Lee Watson, Alloy Engineering president and CEO; and Chris Pascarella, Enprotech president and CEO. Together, these men developed a deeper passion for working with this population, and they comprised the team who identified actionable steps and provided guidance in the development of the ACCESS program.

We are proud to have the continued participation of leaders like Jackson and companies like Elsons International in the Workforce Connect Manufacturing Sector Partnership. While the scope of the ACCESS to Manufacturing Careers program has expanded over the years to serve a several populations with different barriers to employment, re-entry remains a core component of the program. Among the graduates of the ACCESS program, there have been zero cases of recidivism. The belief in the potential of this population, spurred on by Jackson and his fellow manufacturing leaders, has been rewarded.

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