With demand for seasonal workers heating up, ex-offenders can prove to be worthy employees this holiday season if they are given the opportunity.

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A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted a new challenge facing retailers (particularly those with a strong online market) and shippers this holiday season: a severe shortage of seasonal workers. With consumer confidence high and unemployment rates low, companies like Amazon, Target, UPS, Wal-Mart and Macy’s are struggling to hire seasonal employees to work in their warehouses and stores.

Amazon has been holding job fairs to recruit hires. Other companies are trying to attract and retain employees by providing transportation services to and from work sites. Competition for seasonal employees is so strong that we are also seeing companies modifying their human-resources policies (i.e., relaxing requirements for hiring candidates, easing disciplinary policies and even rehiring employees previously dismissed for prior infractions).

But what if we could find a creative and responsible way to meet retailers’ hiring needs while at the same time taking a step toward reducing crime in our communities? This is possible. Perhaps it is time — especially in this tight labor market — for retailers and shippers to consider a potential source of seasonal employees that is usually overlooked: individuals with criminal records.

Applying for work with a conviction history

Individuals with a criminal background can get help applying for employment at a workshop from 2:45-4:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle, Level 4, Boeing Technology Training Center Room 4 (206-386-4636 or spl.org). Registration is not required.

In Washington state, the unemployment rate for ex-offenders is 67 percent, but most employers are reluctant to hire ex-offenders for a variety of reasons. Given the stigma associated with having a criminal record, employers are concerned about protecting their reputation. There are practical challenges employers confront as well, given ex-offenders may not have the education or skills employers are looking for, or have parole-related commitments that make it difficult to maintain regular work hours.

But there are also good reasons to consider giving ex-offenders an opportunity to fill these seasonal positions. In my research, I’ve found employers who have hired ex-offenders actually praise their willingness to take on tough jobs and work hard, often as a way to express their gratitude for being given a second chance and to demonstrate their value to the organization. These employers highlight the importance of giving ex-offenders a second chance, helping them rebuild their lives and reintegrate into society.

Some organizations also see hiring ex-offenders as a form of corporate social responsibility and a way to contribute to their local communities. They are right. Numerous studies show stable employment for ex-offenders reduces the likelihood that they will commit additional crimes and potentially be rearrested, which ultimately contributes to safer and stronger communities.

Many of the employers I’ve studied and learned about are strategic in their hiring of ex-offenders. Employers often partner with local and national re-entry organizations to reduce the risk and uncertainty of hiring ex-offenders. These organizations work directly with ex-offenders, particularly those recently released from incarceration, to provide critical services and skills training that prepares them for employment.

Re-entry organizations also work closely with employers to help them select the right employees for the job and to help with the early employment transition process. There are many highly regarded and successful re-entry organizations, such as Seattle-based Pioneer Human Services and Interaction Transition. Nationally, employers can partner with Project H.O.P.E in Alabama, BOSS (Building Our Self-Sufficiency) in California and CEO (Center for Employment Opportunities), with branches throughout the country.

With some imagination and a willingness to think and act creatively, the big challenge that retailers face this holiday season could represent a unique business and social opportunity, now and into the future. From meeting the growing demand for hard-to-fill seasonal positions, to giving ex-offenders a chance to rebuild their lives and positively contribute to their communities, engaging this often-overlooked source of candidates is not only good for business, it’s also good for society.