The Solution to Our Global Skills Gap Could Be Inside Our Prisons
I’ve spent my career in high-tech and what’s energized me the most is our ability to solve real-world problems creatively, strategically, sustainably, and quickly. We’re also very good at identifying potential issues, which allows us to create solutions before they burden our clients or the rest of the world. This is why I find myself so perplexed lately. Business publications and media outlets have been covering the skills gap for years, yet each new article I read states that the gap is widening. In fact, according to research by the Korn Ferry Institute, the existing talent shortage will reach its worst levels in 2030, when an expected 85.2 million job openings will go unfilled globally. If left unaddressed, by 2028, the technology industry will face severing labor shortages, struggling to fill 4.3 million jobs. Where are our convergent thinkers…our serial innovators…our problem solvers?
Two Issues, One Creative Solution
In the U.S. alone, there are more than 2 million people in our prisons and jails. Each year, 700,000 women and men are released and reenter society. They’ve spent on average five to 10 years incarcerated. That’s an awful lot of time to learn, don’t you think? But here’s the thing, while job training and education classes in prison vary state to state, overall they are severely lacking with most opportunities being given to those nearing release – via The Marshall Project. What this does is create a feeling of helplessness among those serving time, while handicapping their ability to succeed long-term following release. Consider this: an estimated 68 percent of released prisoners are arrested within 3 years, 79 percent within 6 years, and 83 percent within 9 years – via National Institute of Justice. We’ve created a revolving prison door that’s costing all of us $182 billion annually (that’s not a typo) – via Prison Policy Initiative.
What if business emerged as the leader to deliver one unique solution that solved both of these complex issues? I can tell you this: the results would be fantastic and have long-term gains. Let me step back for a moment and share how I know.
Creating a STEM Pipeline
Full disclosure: I’m the CEO of a sales and marketing company that invests in and hires incarcerated women. Since 1994, we’ve been providing sales training, education, and jobs to this discarded population of talent and potential while they’re in prison and after release. The women are trained in the most cutting-edge technology on the market, as well as the hard and soft skills needed to close deals, communicate with C-suite executives, and collaborate with our clients’ sales and marketing teams. The results to date are impressive: $8B in revenue for our clients, $25 million in annual cost savings for taxpayers, and 7 percent recidivism. Everybody is winning.
But what our work is also doing is building a STEM pipeline that our clients and other companies can leverage after our women are released. In fact, many of the 3,000 women who have graduated our program now hold positions at some of the most recognizable Fortune 500 companies in the world in roles such as Marketo/Salesforce/Eloqua/Outreach administrator, telephony engineer, data warehouse and BI developer, marketing automation analyst, SQL Reporting Developers and more. Impressive, especially considering that so much of their knowledge was learned behind prison walls.
And we’re not the only organization seeing massive talent and opportunity in the prison community.
The Last Mile, Inmates to Entrepreneurs and Code Out are three programs doing similar work. They are teaching incarcerated women and men relevant skills in technology and business so they can more easily transition to productive employment following their release from prison. Think about it: by investing in women and men while they are in prison, we can proactively build the next generation workforce with the skills our companies need to thrive.
Let’s face it, some of the worst stigmas are reserved for individuals with criminal backgrounds. But what my company and the non-profits I cited above are showing is that these women and men can learn, want to learn, and they crave opportunity. Are we going to finally see them or continue to ignore this growing talent pool?
I’m proposing a quid pro quo investment opportunity. Teach incarcerated individuals today the tech skills that will enable our businesses to remain competitive tomorrow. Then when they’re released, we can hire them into the right technical jobs where they can continue learning, growing, and delivering results.
Broadening the lens we use to find talent will help women and men start their climb up the corporate ladder while bridging the growing skills shortage and enabling our companies to flourish. I know it can happen because I’ve got on my side 25-years of history and success doing exactly this. Now I’d like all of you to pledge to join me.