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07/06/2009

Looking for steam: Tarrant County felony/misdemeanor-friendly job fair

Felfair It’s no surprise that workers who have criminal backgrounds are having a hard time finding work these days, given the economy.

 

One sign that it’s not getting any easier: Very few employers have signed up for the county’s second annual Felony and/or Misdemeanor Friendly Community Career Fair in September.

 

“I’ve got a handful,” says Angel Ilarraza, the county’s Re-Entry Initiative coordinator. “That’s encouraging, but at this point, we don’t know we’re going to have the job fair.”

 

The fair is scheduled for noon-4 p.m. Sept. 25. The location will be disclosed to invited jobseekers as the date approaches, to avoid being swamped.

 

Last year, more than 800 jobseekers with felonies or misdemeanors on their records were invited to the fair - held at UT-Arlington (photo left) - and pitched themselves to nearly 40 employers. So far, Ilarraza (photo below) says just three employers have confirmed for this year’s fair.

 

He's not saying how many employers it will take to put on the fair. "As many as we can get," he says.

 

More than 400 jobseekers have signed up to be considered for the fair. "I'm anticipating at least 500 that we'll invite," Ilarraza says.

 

Victor Pratt, a contractor for the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services who is screening potential jobseekers for the fair, is optimistic about the fair’s chances.

 

"We're going to pull it off," said Pratt, whose company, criminalbackgroundjobhelp.com, also serves individual jobseekers who aren't referred to it by the state.

 

The Tarrant County Re-Entry Initiative, jobing.com, Tarrant County College, State of Texas,  Mid-Cities HR AssociationTarrant County, and criminalbackgroundjobhelp.com are partners on the event. The Re-Entry Initiative is an outgrowth of the Tarrant County Re-Entry Council, which County Commissioners approved in 2005. The Initiative's job is to help develop strategy for "reintegrating" ex-offenders into the community. Besides job help, the Initiative also assists ex-offenders in finding housing and getting substance abuse treatment.

 

In selling the job fair to employers, Ilarraza and Pratt Angel point to a a $2,400 federal tax credit available under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit program, administered by the Texas Workforce Commission. No-cost bonding service also is available to protect employers against a dishonest worker. Ilarraza also says workers with criminal backgrounds may prove to be highly motivated people who stick around. "These people have something to prove in the workplace," he says.

 

Jobseekers must clear several hurdles before the fair organizers "invite" them to attend. They must first register at http://mysecondchance.us/, and then attend a "readiness" workshop, stay in touch with the organizers, and complete several assignments. "It's not in our interests to put everybody in front of the employers," Ilarraza says. "It's in our interests to put the most motivated, the best prepared, people, in front of them."

 

The fair is free to jobseekers. Fees for employers were $150 to first-timers, and $75 for returning employers. But the fair organizers have slashed those in the last week and a half to $50 and $25, respectively. Employers can also register to exhibit at the fair at http://mysecondchance.us/

 

Once inside the fair, employers' tables with yellow decorations signify "misdemeanor friendly" on case by case basis. Green signifies felony-friendly, case by case. "That just avoids a lot of wasted time," Ilarraza says.

 

The fair organizers didn't collect data on outcomes from last year's fair, but Ilarraza says the organizers plan to seek more feedback from the jobseekers this year.

 

Scott Nishimura, jobs and workplace reporter, Star-Telegram

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