Job fair is start to collaboration

Last week, together with York County Sheriff Bill King, University of New England’s Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition and Enso Recovery, we conducted a Recovery Workforce Job Fair at the Pepperell Mill Campus. Twenty seven employers exhibited and more than 70 jobseekers attended in person, as well as many more via Skype online connection from the York County Jail.

Solving the opioid crisis will not be simple. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s so complex, with problems so intertwined, that it can only be solved with an all-out effort by health care, criminal justice and human services agencies working together. But having a good job is clearly one key step.

Many people who have the disease of substance use disorder have gaps in employment and often, criminal records. Even after moving on from the disease of addiction, these burdens can make it very difficult to find a job. However, employer attitudes around hiring those in recovery are changing. There is an increasing awareness that people recover and can make great employees. Having a job creates a sense of purpose and a way for a person in recovery to contribute positively to society and build self esteem.

For companies, the stakes are high. People are the lifeblood of any business and organizations want to bring in the best talent. Sometimes that means looking for potential employees in unorthodox places and discovering hidden genius. For employers who are seeking new target audiences for recruitment and are open to new workforce development ideas, joining the discussion about the large, untapped reservoir of eager candidates in the recovery community is a good idea. All involved agreed the Recovery Workforce Job Fair was one step in the right direction.

The day included not only employer exhibitions but also a workshop from Sheri Wilkens of Wilkens Consulting Group, who came from Waterville to present. This was a packed room, including Bonita Pothier from Sen. Angus King’s staff. Questions addressed included: How do candidates in recovery fit your organizational culture? Does your management style suit a nontraditional employee? What can you do to manage risk?

Beth Schoch, a resume expert, provided free resume help for applicants and counseling on how to present yourself to a prospective employer. Tips included having a professional sounding email address (having the email “burningrubber2016” does not give a potential employer great confidence); and disclosing any criminal record early in the application process. If it’s going to come up later on a background check you should let your potential employer know. You may or may not get the job, but it is better to be up front. About 25 percent of all Americans have some kind of record, and today, many employers are willing to give people a second chance.

This really was a great day and I wish to thank the many partners who made it such a success. The WGAN Morning Show with Ken and Matt broadcasted live all morning, which really helped bring people in. Tulu Salon and Spa provided 28 free haircuts and makeovers to attendees who wanted to look their best. The Biddeford- Saco Chamber of Commerce and Industry was a key promotional partner. Many in recovery have no driver’s license, and ShuttleBus Zoom was on site to help work out transit routes. ThinkTank Coworking provided meeting space at no charge. Holy Donut is hiring, and also brought free donuts (yum!). Krispy Kreme joined us too, and Portland Pie Company provided more than 100 pizzas at a discount, so we were well fed. Groups/Recover Together (an intensive medication assisted treatment recovery company located on Main Street in Biddeford) exhibited. Engine, a Biddeford-based arts and education nonprofit, provided graphic design help. Paradigm Windows is hiring for its manufacturing lines and was the first headline sponsor. York County Shelter Programs is hiring medical professionals and exhibited as well. Without these amazing partners, we would not have been able to pull off this event.

As you can tell I am passionate about this topic and believe it is really a way to make a difference – a way to stop the cycle of substance use disorder. I’ll update you here in these pages about future events and in the meantime, I continue to make connections between jobseekers and employers. If I can do that for you, just email me at martin. grohman@legislature.maine.gov.