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Take Five: Harrigan Solutions thrives with former inmates

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IB: This approach to workforce development must be a curiosity among your peers in the Wisconsin business community. When they ask you about the program, what kinds of questions do they have for you?

Harrigan: They don’t ask me about it. I am surprised, but I have had very few people say, ‘How the heck to you do that?’ It’s a mystery to me. We clearly go to a much greater extent than other people would, and just for personal reasons for our team and me. I would think that if I had to hire another 30 people or so, I would be a little more curious about it.

IB: You would think with the labor shortage and the recent signing of criminal justice reform at the federal level, that this would become more a topic among those who run businesses.

Harrigan: Actually, let me bail out the people who own and run businesses. I don’t think they know there is a way to do this, to work with people who have been unsuccessful and to help then become successful and view their job as their personal vision of success. I think most people don’t know that’s doable because they have tried for so long and the practices they use don’t work. I don’t think most people know where to go with this.

IB: I mentioned federal criminal justice reform. There’s a job center that has been set up to help inmates at one institution — Oakhill Correctional — and some cities are adopting ban the box laws to prevent a criminal record from being used against former inmates in their job search. There is also growing recognition that gainful employment is the best antidote to high recidivism rates. Do you sense that a perfect storm is brewing that helps change minds in executive suites around the state when it comes to tapping into ex-prisoners as a workforce solution?

Harrigan: Well, I think this is a unique opportunity for those who want to help people find work. Perfect storm is not a bad way to put it, but people have to know how to do that.

IB: Are you willing to talk about it with others or even lecture about how Harrigan Solutions does this?

Harrigan: Sure. Yes, I certainly would.

IB: Some believe employers would be more favorable to hiring former inmates if they received a tax credit for doing so. Given how acute the labor shortage is, are such tax credits really necessary, in your view?

Harrigan: The truth is, I don’t turn to the government for anything if I can help it. I don’t need a tax credit to do that. It doesn’t enter into my thinking. So, I don’t know if we’ve ever done that or not. I’m not sure, but we enjoy working with good people who haven’t had a good opportunity to connect the dots in their lives and start over and be effective. It’s fun to watch. It’s fun to facilitate. It’s just fun, that’s all.

I think businesses talk to employees about what they want, what the business wants from the person. That, to me, is the wrong starting point. The starting point is where the individual wants to go, and how effective are we, as businesses, in helping people see their job as a vehicle to getting what they want? If I hired you and said you’ve got to be on time and I want you to do this and that, it is not emotionally intelligent to walk away from them without understanding what it is they need. By being more emotionally intelligent, everybody wins.

I’ve talked to people who have never been asked that question before. What does success look like to you? No one has ever pointed out what strengths they have. Those are incredibly and intrinsically motivating. Overlooking the opportunity of helping people see that you are interested in them, and you want to involve them in your business and provide them with autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose, is to underutilize your skills as a leader in engaging people.

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