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Centretown News Online
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Social enterprise creates jobs for ex-convicts
Friday, 07 December 2012
By Brad Clouthier
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Jill Adams, Centretown News
Jill Adams, Centretown News
Rhea Wootton, director of administration at the John Howard Society, helps co-ordinate a program to help ex-prisoners find work. She says there's work in Ottawa for those trained in asbestos removal.
Finding work nowadays can be challenging at best.

First you have to find a job opening. Then you have to apply. Then there’s the interview, and often a criminal background check.

Finding work with a criminal record can be a nightmare, says one ex-convict who has been trying to find meaningful work in Ottawa. He wants to remain anonymous, out of respect for his wife and children and in the interest of finding employment.

“Whenever you go to an employer the stigma of having a criminal record immediately disqualifies you,” he says.

“They warned me while I was in prison that this was the easy part,” he says, referring to completing the prison sentence. “The hard part is whenever you’re back out on the street.”  

He says he has been able to get some work since completing a prison stint because he wasn’t asked about his past during the job interview. “I’ve never lied about it and a lot of places don’t have that in their questionnaires,” he says.

But he says eventually employers have discovered his past by searching his name on the Internet or through word of mouth. Sometimes this would happen months or even years of working at a job.

“I was told how good I was doing and that months down the road I could be considered for a supervisory job,” he says. “And the very next day I was pulled into the office and I was let go, with no explanation. I was told months after that somebody knew of me and my past.”

He says he even tried searching for work outside of Ottawa but eventually his past always ended up catching up with him.

“In a stint of about two-and-a-half, maybe three months, I put out over 250 resumes, jobs I should instantly have, and I wasn’t even getting called,” he says. “I know there are a lot of bad people out there, but there are a lot of people that have made mistakes and they’re truly sorry for the mistakes they’ve done.”

But all that changed about a year ago when he discovered Rideau Social Enterprises, which is run by the John Howard Society of Ottawa, a non-profit that helps ex-convicts reform and find jobs.

“If this program wasn’t running, I don’t know what I’d be doing,” he says. “I sent out an awful lot of resumes.”

Rideau Social Enterprises is funded by the City of Ottawa and Skills Development Canada. They offer two employment streams: bed bug extermination and an asbestos removal crew.

“There’s a ton of work available in Ottawa for people who are trained to do asbestos removal work,” says Rhea Wootton, director of administration at the John Howard Society. “We send them off to Algonquin or St. Lawrence College in Cornwall to write the test, and they actually get their full-ticket certification through the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities,” she says. “We act like a temp agency. We have about four asbestos companies and when they need labour they call us.”

Five Star Asbestos Removal, a company that does work in Centretown, is one of those businesses. It has a crew of about 10 permanent staff, but the company often hires workers from Rideau Social Enterprises to help on larger contractual work.

“The problem with the asbestos removal business is there’s a lot of ebbs and flows,” says business manager Dave Kendall. “One week we’re extremely busy, the next week we’re not.”

Being able to hire people who are already trained and certified to remove asbestos is helpful to companies such as Five Star.

“For us to get a guy properly trained at what we do, it’s going to be a process,” Kendall says, adding that he hires through Rideau because the people he gets are trained. “They have the knowledge coming in,” he says.

But there’s also a stigma involved with hiring workers with criminal records, says Kendall. Clients could be wary of having ex-convicts on the worksites or in their homes.

For any contract that requires employees to have security clearance – such as government buildings – Kendall says it’s impossible to use the workers from Rideau Social Enterprises. He says he mostly employs them in projects that involve buildings that will be demolished after the asbestos is removed.

Kendall is quick to point out that the stigma is often exaggerated and the severity of past crimes not as heinous as many think.

“Most of them just can’t get work or they just haven’t been in that frame of mind,” he says. “People always think the worst of a lot of this, and it’s really not the case.”

The starting wage for employees in the asbestos program is between $13- and $15-an-hour, says Wootton. “We want our guys to have a livable wage. We want people to be able to get a good start and to be able to live.”

Last Updated ( Friday, 25 January 2013 )
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