Are criminal records impacting the workforce?

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- As businesses struggle to fill positions, the Wisconsin Policy Forum estimates more than a million people have criminal convictions preventing them from getting a job in Wisconsin.

Officials at Hope Gospel Mission share how this impacts some job seekers locally. The Wisconsin Policy Forum released a report this week exploring possible changes to help ex-cons get jobs while addressing the worker shortage. The non-partisan organization looked at how wiping criminal records could grow Wisconsin's workforce.

A criminal record can be a huge roadblock for many job seekers but as the workforce shortage continues there could be a link between these two issues.

Hope Gospel Mission in Eau Claire says they're more than a homeless shelter but a renewal center. They say the workforce shortage is actually helping many residents with a criminal past find jobs. "I think employers in general are probably more open minded with convictions because they're having trouble finding employees right now," said Chris Hedlund, Program Director.

Helund says their vocational program helps residents find jobs. “I would say most of our residents, at least 75 percent have convictions in their background," he said.

Hope Gospel Mission says they do their very best to provide their residents with resources to help them get back into the workforce, even with a criminal record. "We help the residents understand what employers are looking for and the real issues that are with their conviction,” said Hedlund.

He says residents are encouraged to show employers they’ve made positive changes to help separate them from their convictions. Hedlund says many local employers are willing to give a second chance. "Employers around here are generally compassionate and openhearted," he says.

He adds that more companies should be more forgiving of people with a past. "Many people have a background but I know many people who have been convicted of crimes in the past that are some of the best employees that I’ve ever worked with so don't let that be the only deciding factor in whether or not you offer somebody a position," he says.

Officials with the Eau Claire County job center say they encounter people with criminal records daily. They say they have resources to help those and others get back on their feet.

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