By: Roddie Burris – 

COLUMBIA, SC — Businessman Gary Allen Washington’s new company name is straightforward: Felons R Us.

So much so that his request in April for a license to operate the moving company was at first denied by the City of Columbia. The full city council later overrode that decision.

As the company name proclaims, Washington, who owns several enterprises in the city, hires people with felony records – nonviolent only – to move furniture for businesses or families.

If 8 percent of the workforce in South Carolina still is searching for work five years after the start of the Great Recession, conditions for people who have employment issues are even tougher.

Besides criminal records, issues range from gaps in work histories to poor credit – and a lot more.

Ex-offenders and others with employment issues applying for work must first be honest with employers about their records without offering too much detail – or any sob stories, said Sarah Trice, Midlands Technical College student employment services director. They should take responsibility for their actions, while assuring the employer they have learned from the mistake and can offer value to their company, she said.

“What they really want in each of these situations is someone who is going to be upfront with them, and not be cagey,” Trice said. “It (should) always go right back to what are my skills, what are my accomplishments, and how can I add value.”

Take gaps in employment history, for instance.

“That’s a biggie, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad thing,” Trice said. “Almost everybody has gaps at some time.”

Given today’s economy, gaps could occur due to a return to school, or to raise children, or to give care to a family member, among other legitimate reasons.

It is most important to account for skills and accomplishments gained during the gap, Trice said.

“Another big one is credit,” Trice said, “but there is hope.” Having bad credit does not make a person a bad worker, but a job candidate must be prepared to give a valid reason for the credit blemish, Trice said.

That might go back to a job loss or other family tragedy, ranging from an acute sickness to loss of a home or a divorce, she said.

“The thing is, they need to tell the employer what they’re doing about the credit,” Trice said. “And again, (try to) bring it right back to the skills and accomplishments they can bring to the job and not focus on the poor credit – but be honest.”

Firings also are among the issues that can frustrate the new job search process, Trice said. While some dismissals are for cause, others are unjust, she said, and leave a certain amount of shame and guilt to be dealt with before being successful elsewhere.

“They can’t go in to a (potential) employer if they haven’t personally resolved the issue,” Trice said. Otherwise, “They bring anger, they bring bitterness, they’re distraught and they bring that in. The (new) employer is saying, ‘Why should I bother with this?’” Trice said.

“Give a good reason and don’t get bogged down.”

Felons – those convicted of the most serious of crimes – have perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome, usually carrying a job shadow for life, Washington says, one devoid of second chances.

“Some of the people we engage for moving furniture and lawn maintenance, they’re 25 to 30 years (away from) a felony from fighting someone at 22 years old,” Washington said. “Now they’re 45 or 50 years old, but that same felony will stop them from working with UPS. They can’t get a job at the state (of South Carolina). They can’t even go on a military installation.

“They are literally locked out, based on an incident that they recognize was wrong, paid for through incarceration, and yet it’s still tagged to them,” Washington explained. “So how else do we sustain our economy on fairness and opportunity if 35 to 40 percent of our minority brothers are ineligible to work?”

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Michael Bailey
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