New approach to staffing helps ex-offenders

December 14, 2009
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When Andy Ribbens needs some extra temporary help at Precision Finishing, his 12-person metal finishing business in Walker, he calls New Day Staffing LLC.

The two-year-old Holland employment company, a subsidiary of nonprofit 70 Times 7 Life Recovery, provides work opportunities for men who are getting out of jail or prison, or who are recovering from addiction.

“I just have a heart for people who have been in trouble and are trying to make right again in their life,” said Ribbens, who attends Ridge Point Community Church. The 70 Times 7 organization is an offshoot of the church.

New Day works with men on parole and probation in Ottawa County, said Gary Barton. Barton is 70 Times 7’s finance and business development director and oversees the staffing agency.

New Day’s workers spend four to six weeks working with a mentor in community service.

“We see that as distinguishing us from other programs,” Barton said. “We think it makes all the difference in the world.”

The mentors are trained volunteers from the three churches that support 70 Times 7, he said. They do community service jobs, such as landscaping or janitorial work, at the churches, working side by side.

“What we’re trying to do in that process is to get to know them, to build a relationship that brings us to the point where we can start advocating for them for employment,” Barton said.

“Through the volunteer mentors, we are able to get to know them and evaluate their work habits, their soft work skills, and determine whether they are somebody we can bring into the program.”

Only about 20 percent of those who participate in the community service portion are accepted into the employment agency, Barton said, “for a whole variety of reasons. We feel good about the ones that make it. We can advocate strongly for them with potential employers.”

For the next year, the men are paired with another mentor for one year to help them learn the life skills that are required to hold a job, he explained. The jobs are mostly unskilled, light manufacturing.

So far, 30 men have been placed through the staffing agency and several of them went on to obtain permanent jobs with those employers, Barton said. He said New Day has worked with 18 companies in the program, and three to five are actively using New Day workers at any given time.

“We get to know them, we understand who they are and where they’re coming from,” Barton said. “They are working with a mentor, which we think is huge in terms of minimizing risk. We just don’t think there is a great deal of risk to be worried about. The screening process and monitoring has taken a lot of that risk away, and so many people are not a risk to begin with. Their criminal background isn’t of that nature.”

The recession and restructuring of Michigan’s economy hasn’t been the easiest time to launch a staffing agency, Barton acknowledged. That led New Day to place clients into day work. But the job climate has improved a little recently, he said. 

“What an important role the business community has to play in the successful integration of people into society that have been in prison or jail,” Barton said, adding that re-offenders cost taxpayers thousands of dollars apiece.

“If they can’t find employment, they can’t support themselves. Then nothing good happens.”

Ribbens said he finds New Day rates to be “very competitive” with for-profit staffing agencies, which he called a bonus.

“That’s not the reason why we’re doing this,” Ribbens added. “We got involved in this through our church. Usually, when they get to this stage, they’ve made a conscious decision in their life that, ‘Yes, I’ve made bad decisions, but I’ll do what I need to do to change it around.’

“It’s been a win-win for everybody.”

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