Often times, the people who need a second chance don't get it.
Fortunately, William Stockwell believes in second chances.
The president of Philadelphia-based Stockwell Elastomerics Inc.—and newly named Rubber & Plastics News' 2018 Rubber Industry Executive of the Year—wants to solve a problem. He said there are about 25,000 people being released from incarceration into the Philadelphia region every year. Most of them go back to prison because they can't find a job.
The rubber industry, which Stockwell is a part of as his company is a silicone molder and fabricator, is experiencing a shortage in new talent to take the torch from an aging work force. Combined with tight unemployment, Stockwell said manufacturers are in need of people, but those people don't often know how to get off of the sidelines and take advantage of the opportunities out there. And sometimes, their past becomes too much of a burden to overcome.
"All we have to do is think a little more creatively and we solve that problem. It's a beautiful thing," Stockwell said.
"As I've gotten older, I've found that there are others who have the same belief, the same experience. The City of Philadelphia has a population of people who could really use a second chance."
Enter the Philly Manufacturing Growth Network, co-founded by Stockwell and Ed Stopper, who is the owner and CEO of New Jersey-based Elray Manufacturing Co. The organization has re-defined its mission in 2018 as one that seeks to take ex-offenders and pair them with manufacturers who need employees.
"We've been blessed, fortunate and successful, and we owe a debt," Stopper said. "Bill and I and a small group of others have been talking about what we're going to do when we finish up and how to finish well. Giving back in a way that changes the game is really important. We're small businessmen, we're not Bill Gates or even a hundredth of that, but there's enough resources to make a difference."
The organization seeks to be the place that bridges a number of different silos for companies and provides them with the resources needed to successfully take a chance on ex-offenders.
The first step in this program was partnering with Baker Industries, a nonprofit work program for adults who are on parole or probation, in recovery, homeless or have a diagnosed disability. Stockwell said Baker takes those individuals, screens them and then puts them through a very rigorous job training program. The program helps them face what they've done wrong in the past, then supports them as they seek to push through it.
Baker has the capability of processing up to 40 people per year, but as a nonprofit, it has struggled to find willing companies to take them on. The Philadelphia Manufacturing Growth Network aims to be that bridge—providing a network of companies to tap into Baker and hire from its pool.
The association's goal in 2019 is to hire 20 returning citizens throughout the participating groups, which Stopper said currently consists of about seven core companies and a dozen others that operate on the peripheral.
"We're looking at this as a supply chain issue," Stockwell said. "If we could have enough demand to pull, there's plenty of supply. Our vision is to increase this number and help with that pull. We want to use Baker Industries as that bridge, and develop that bridge between Baker and the manufacturers."
Stopper said beyond connecting employees, PMGN seeks to be a resource of information to help remove some of these barriers that make it hard, if not impossible, for ex-offenders to get a job.
These include knowledge of the parole system. Stopper said if an ex-offender gets hired, often times the company keeps his background check confidential to the point where his supervisor might not know the situation. If the employee has to visit a parole officer during work hours, he may not feel invited to share the specific reason, which could lead to the supervisor thinking there is an attendance issue.
Or a more extreme example offered by Stopper: What if the parole officer shows up to the employee's workplace?
"Those are tough things to overcome if the organization doesn't appreciate it," Stopper said. "We're finding a lot of societal silos, where there are resources available to people, but they don't talk to each other. We're trying to break those barriers down and be the place that knows where all of those resources are to create a bridge from the sidelines into the economy."
PMGN's recent focus isn't even a year old, but Stockwell said the firm recently hired someone from Baker, who is doing what he described as a "great job." He hopes to hire another in January. Another company within the network also has hired an employee from Baker.
"We've changed some lives here," Stockwell said. "We have some people working for us who were sleeping in their shoes, but we read them as people who were worth taking a chance on. There's some risk here. It doesn't always work out. I'd say our batting average is probably 50-50, but we also have some solid people who've become very loyal employees. That to me outweighs that risk."