With an unemployment rate in Oklahoma City as low as 2.1% in April 2023, many Oklahoma businesses continue to struggle with recruitment and hiring and to fill open positions.
EMBARK, the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority, a trust of the City of Oklahoma City has known for some time that expanding employment opportunities to untapped and underrepresented groups was key to improving employee recruitment outcomes.
“As a public trust we are very careful in our hiring. We have a responsibility to our passengers, our employees and our coworkers to find the right people who will contribute to EMBARK being the very best provider of transit in Central Oklahoma. However, we’ve focused our culture on creating opportunities for everyone,” said EMBARK’s Human Resources Specialist, Lora Miller.
Some workplaces are very restrictive and have policies in place to prevent those who are formerly justice involved from joining the team. Others use “knockout questions,” or questions designed to help human resources recruiters sift through large numbers of applications and more easily narrow down candidates to a more manageable number.
Miller said that used to be true of EMBARK, “Of course we have certain standards for hiring, like most companies. I am thankful we were able to take a closer look at our hiring practices to remove knockout questions about felonies. Over the last few years, we have worked hard to ensure our hiring practices align with our vision to be accessible to all, that’s why we make the effort to review each application.”
EMBARK is a great example of an employer in Central Oklahoma who has adopted Fair Chance hiring practices.
Fair Chance hiring refers to the practice of hiring qualified job candidates despite low-level, nonviolent, criminal offenses they committed in their past. Countless studies show that doing so is beneficial for communities, businesses and economies.
“It can take a culture shift. But it’s not altruistic. We have started reaching out to communities that were underserved, places we haven’t looked. And this is one of them. It’s been a blessing to have the opportunity to work with Diversion Hub, ReMerge and similar organizations to fill our open positions and provide employment to those who need it,” said Miller.
EMBARK is one of several employers in Central Oklahoma who has been better able to fill open roles by bringing on formerly justice involved individuals. Employers like Goodwill Industries of Central Oklahoma, Locke Supply, Woody Candy Company and others have all reaped the benefits of Fair Chance Hiring.
“We look at a felony conviction differently. It’s not a reason to exclude someone from employment, but rather a reason to have conversation about opportunities and possibilities,” said Miller.
I am proud of the work of Central Oklahoma employers to provide opportunities to those with non-violent felony convictions in our community. Adjusting hiring practices is not only beneficial for businesses but it makes our communities safer and our economies stronger.
This piece first appeared in the Journal Record