A group of 22 formerly incarcerated individuals are gearing up to re-enter the workforce.
The group was the first cohort to graduate from the UpLift Workforce Solutions program, an initiative designed to create employment opportunities for returning citizens in the Philadelphia regions. UpLift Workforce Solutions held a second chance celebration for the graduating class on Wednesday at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church.
During the six-week program, the students received professional development and life skills training in a classroom environment, followed by cashier training specific to Brown’s ShopRite stores.
Barry Johnson, Workforce Solutions director said the program enables participants for potential career opportunities with Brown’s ShopRite stores.
“There are a lot of re-entry programs around the city,” he said. “I think that where lot of re-entry training program fail is they are not setting their participants up for careers – they are setting them up with jobs.”
Program graduates will start working at Brown’s ShopRite stores on July 13 where they will make $8 an hour and receive full-time benefits.
The next cohort of 28 students will start their classes on Monday. Program participants are recruited from halfway houses, drug and alcohol programs and transitional housing across the city.
Johnson noted the need for such a program is overwhelming. According to UpLift officials, annually, more than 36,000 people pass through Philadelphia city jails, 18,000 people are released from prison in Pennsylvania and more than 300,000 people living in Philly have criminal records.
Current laws and perceptions have created barriers for these individuals to achieve permanent long-term employment. Due to a lack of opportunity, many of these individuals decide their only option for survival is to re-engage in past behavior. This cycle has helped contribute to an 80-percent recidivism rate and long-term structural poverty.
“A job is great but because you have this demographic that does sort of holds on to an instant gratification mentality, you putting them in a minimum-wage job without any room for advancement is not really helping,“ Johnson said.