Finding Freedom and (Hopefully) a Job: St. Louis Fair Draws 500 Looking for Second Chance

By on April 11, 2018

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch:  Perhaps it’s fitting that a tunneling company recruited at a job fair on Tuesday for ex-cons. Not that the 500 participants were experts at digging out of prison. They need jobs, preferably ones that pay well, maybe even are meaningful.

Louis Pounds, senior human resources manager at SAK Construction, said union laborer jobs at the firm based in O’Fallon, Mo., start around $15 an hour. And he assured employees take pride in building tunnels 150 feet below the surface.

“You are helping rebuild the infrastructure of the country,” Pounds said of the work that often supports Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District contracts.

Three months out of prison, Kyle McCorkell eyeballed the encouraging SAK representatives from a distance, unwilling to bite. He hoped to do better than a current job at McDonald’s, yet he was apprehensive about going underground.

“I don’t know about that one,” said McCorkell, 34, of north St. Louis County.

There were other options to pursue. SAK was one of about 80 employers and organizations that had desks set up at the Partnership for Success Career Fair at Chaifetz Arena. For four hours, it was a place where the stigma from criminal histories didn’t seem to matter as much as when going door to door to seek employment. Second and third chances were expected.

Sponsored by St. Louis University and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, job seekers were supposed to show up with a résumé, completed job readiness training and professional clothing. Most of the participants came prepared, but at least one man had to swap worn-out jeans for a donated suit in time to meet potential employers.

“It’s fantastic to see St. Louis University and so many companies and nonprofits throughout the region coming together to show support for people who have little support,” said Jeff Smith, 44, who went to federal prison for obstruction of justice regarding his unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2004 and now works for Concordance Academy of Leadership, which does re-entry work. “We are starting to see a sea change in the region and nationally in people’s attitudes toward those who have been incarcerated.”

Scott Anders, chief U.S. probation officer for the eastern half of Missouri, said it had been a decade since the fair was offered because job training was the focus after the Great Recession hit.

Read more.


About Dede Hance