Fair Chance Hiring focuses on the person, not the past

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - With unemployment in Linn County at 3.1 percent, it can be tough for businesses to find workers.

Belinda Spaeth works at Stoneking Enterprises in North Liberty in an undated photo (Jackie Kennon/KCRG).

For people with a criminal past, it can be nearly impossible to find employment. A focus on Fair Chance Hiring is helping connect the two, and get employers thinking about people's futures instead of their past.

Belinda Spaeth manages the store at Stoneking Enterprises in North Liberty. It's much more than just a job to her.

“This job has brought a lot of self-respect, self-esteem back to me,” Spaeth said.

Becoming employed was a huge challenge.

“Because of a minimal charge, I've been told no multiple times, and when you get told no multiple times, it breaks you down, you start to give up, you start to wonder,” Spaeth said.

At one point, she worked three minimum wage jobs, leaving little to no time with her children. Julie Redmond at DES Employment Group helped Spaeth find good-paying work. She tries to find a job for everyone who comes in the door, no matter what their background is.

“They get a hundred ‘no’s’, we try to get them the ‘yes’ as much as we can,” Redmond said.

With a low county unemployment rate, Jaime Toledo, regional programs strategist at Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, said she wants employers to know about any and all workforce options.

“Fair Chance Hiring is when there's a potential candidate with a record, whether that's arrest, probation, or incarceration that is not is not automatically disqualified from a potential hire situation,” Toledo said.

Redmond wants employers to see the person looking for a job, and not just their past.

“A crime is a crime no matter what, wrong is wrong, and taking acceptability and accountability for your actions is huge,” Spaeth said. “But a lot of those that are keeping people from jobs, have nothing to do with the job, has nothing to do with their capabilities.”