Member Profile: RecycleForce and Keys to Work Staffing, Indianapolis, Indiana

Gregg Jannett and Justin Robinson of Recycle ForceYear RecycleForce began: 2006
Job seekers employed by RecycleForce in 2015: 228

RecycleForce is a social enterprise that recycles electronic and other waste, annually processing about 10 million pounds of materials and providing transitional employment and skills training to help ex-offenders reenter the workforce. Individuals work four months at RecycleForce, which then helps them find competitive job placements, mainly through Keys to Work Staffing. Using this model, RecycleForce has been able to document a 25% recidivism rate for its workforce, compared with the county’s rate of 46%.

Jannett and Gregg Keesling with Justin Robinson

The two businesses have close family ties. Gregg Keesling is founder and president of RecycleForce and his wife, Jannett Keesling, is the CEO of Keys to Work, which she founded in 1996. We recently spoke with Gregg to learn more about how these two social enterprises partner to promote the success of ex-offender job seekers.

Please describe RecycleForce’s social enterprise model.
RecycleForce combines an electronic recycling business with workforce development for recently released offenders. The recycling business generates about half of our revenue and enables us to provide intensive services and supports to workers while they’re on our payroll, earning $9.00 per hour to start. Federal grants from the US Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services as well as local and national foundations and other operating support donations round out the funding necessary to operate the social enterprise.

Our employees typically spend four to five hours a day working, and three to four hours in training and developmental activities. On average they work 32 hours per week, breaking down electronics and separating the parts to be sorted for precious metals. We pitch their employment with us as an opportunity to exercise and build their “work muscle” while we provide coaching, mentoring, and support.

People can work for us up to four months, then we work to advance them to external employment, mainly through Keys to Work Staffing. About 10% of our workers are able to get jobs on their own, typically in family or friends’ businesses or with previous employers. For the majority who lack these connections, Keys to Work offers temporary and temp-to-hire jobs that enable them to gain additional experience and stabilize their earnings. Last year about 60% of our candidates obtained jobs through Keys to Work.

How are candidates referred to you?
Candidates are referred to us by criminal justice oversight agencies within 120 days of their release from prison. Many are in work release or halfway houses at the time of their referral and all are on some type of monitoring, such as ankle monitors, parole/probation, or community corrections. The individuals referred are considered medium to high risk by their criminal justice oversight agency, meaning they have little work history, have committed serious crimes, and need to be monitored to ensure public safety.

What types of support services have you found to be most critical to your workers’ success?
About two-thirds of our candidates have never held a job before, so we’re a critical bridge to the mainstream labor market. Our transitional jobs also provide flexibility so individuals can effectively manage reentry mandates such as oversight appointments, court dates, counseling, and random drug tests. The most important thing a person needs upon release from prison is a job, but that job must be flexible enough to allow the oversight agency to monitor them.

What types of staffing assignments do workers perform through Keys to Work?
Private sector jobs may be in catering, construction, warehouse/logistics, or repackaging retail returns. In the public sector, individuals may be placed in sanitation jobs, as flagmen, or at Municipal Recycling Facilities.

What are employers’ greatest concerns about hiring people with criminal records and how do you address these?
Employers’ priorities are work ethic and the ability to show up for work. Since our workers are on oversight, mandated meetings with criminal justice officials and other oversight activities always take precedence over work. Employers find it difficult to hire people who cannot always get to work or complete a full shift at their job due to these mandates. The alternative staffing model provides flexibility to assign a replacement worker in these situations.

Transportation can also be a barrier to showing up. Both Keys and RecycleForce help with bus passes, and we work with the Child Support Bureau to help candidates reinstate their driver licenses and maintain their child support commitments to their children.

How would you describe the synergies between electronics recycling and alternative staffing as enterprise strategies for workforce development?
Like RecycleForce, Keys to Work is flexible in scheduling employees around their reentry appointments. Keys staff work closely with our case management team to report where workers are assigned, coordinate child support deductions and other garnishments, and support a reentrant’s plan of action developed in collaboration with the RecycleForce case managers upon referral to the program.

What kind of outcomes do you measure and what data systems do you use to do this?
The main things we track are recidivism, earnings, family reintegration, and skills certification. We use the US Department of Labor’s Management Information System to track results over time, as part of our grant reporting.

We also participated in the US DOL-sponsored Enhanced Transitional Jobs Demonstration Project, which involved seven sites nationally and ended last year. The initial report, with 12-month impact data, should be published any day. One finding I can share is that our one-year “return to prison” rate was 17%, and this dropped to 4% when excluding returns due to technical violations. The final demonstration report, with 30-month impact data, is due in 2018.

RecycleForce was recently selected for REDF’s new national Social Innovation Fund portfolio. What are your goals for RecycleForce as part of this opportunity?
Our goal is to employ 250 transitional workers in the first year. We also hope REDF will help us rebuild our business revenue to $2 million per year. Falling commodity prices for metals have hurt our recycling revenues in recent years.

What about RecycleForce makes you most proud?
I’m proud that both RecycleForce and Keys to Work are dealing with a population that many fear. I am most proud to have found many, many stars – hard working men and women who simply want a second chance to work and prove their worth to society.

Please share a success story about one of your workers.
Justin Robinson is one of our employees on work release. Throughout his time at RecycleForce, he’s earned ten certifications including his forklift license and his Slip, Trip and Fall certification. When the Department of Public Works (DPW) called seeking an employee with this credential, Mr. Robinson was selected for the assignment and his performance was a stepping stone to future work at DPW. He’s one of our employees they consistently request, and has been working with them about a month.

Mr. Robinson has a few weeks left in work release and hopes to get a full time job with DPW. He’s also looking into going back to school. Meanwhile, he’s stayed current in paying his child support and has been active in his child’s life. He’s doing a great job for himself, his family and the community.

To learn more, visit Recycle Force and Keys to Work Staffing on the web.

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