Finishing as a Second Chance

Sheffield Platers has hired more than 40 graduates of Second Chance, a non-profit program that provides job training to former criminal offenders.

Imagine the conversation that took place over the hedges between two homes in a lovely San Diego neighborhood.

On one side was Dale Watkins, president of family-owned Sheffield Platers, one of the best in the U.S. and one that relies heavily on qualified employees willing to show up every day and put in an honest day’s work. His neighbor is Peter Callstrom, president the San Diego Workforce Partnership, which funds job training programs that assist job seekers and helps meet the workforce needs of employers in San Diego County.

Watkins’ shop is always looking for qualified employees, and what shop isn’t these days? Having a competent, reliable workforce is a luxury, it seems.

About three years ago, Watkins and Callstrom were chatting and the subject of workforce development came up. Callstrom told Watkins about Second Chance, a non-profit agency that works with law enforcement and probation departments to provide training for former inmates and others involved in the judicial system. The agency helps them interview for jobs and hone their skills after they have paid their debts to society.

Second Chance also provides services such as transitional housing, behavioral health treatment and financial literacy to ex-offenders to help them gain self-sufficiency, while helping reduce recidivism, unemployment and homelessness.

Watkins jumped at the idea to work with the agency, and has never looked back. Sheffield Platers has hired more than 40 Second Chance graduates to work at the shop, some of whom have since been promoted to supervisory positions.

“I’m not giving people jobs whose parents or spouse made them go out and apply for a job; I’m giving people jobs who have already put a lot of work and energy into just getting to the front door of my facility,” Watkins says. “These individuals are very eager to be part of something that makes them feel good about themselves.”

Sheffield was founded in 1946. Watkins and his brother, Mark, now run the 21,000-square-foot facility, which specializes in hermetic and standard connectors, pressure bulkheads, headers, and feed-throughs for a wide variety of industries.

Granted, Sheffield Platers also benefits through tax savings from hiring Second Chance clients. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit can cut an employer’s federal income tax liability by around $2,500 per employee hired through programs like this.

Watkins says that was one of the reasons he entered the partnership with Second Chance, but he also did it because he believes in redemption. While a few employees hired from the program didn’t last very long at the shop, many have flourished and even gone on to other employment that offers them greater opportunity and more income.

Watkins says in those cases he doesn’t mind being a temporary stepping stone to someone getting his or her life back together.

“Our executive team has benefited in many ways we did not expect,” he says. “We have played a part in their personal growth as they become productive members of society. We have watched them flourish under our management style and become happy, confident people again.”

The ex-offenders who pass through Second Chance’s intensive four-week program undergo training in everything from job interviewing to how to explain their criminal pasts when applying for jobs. The training also comes with 24 months of follow-up support, which might include computer training or even help in buying clothes for a job. Clients also are connected with housing resources.

The program has been proven to help out employees and the shops who hire them, and it also helps society in general. One of Second Chance’s goals in training and placing ex-offenders is reducing recidivism, and the statistics supporting this goal have been tremendous since the program started in 1993. Data show it costs California about $55,000 annually to house an inmate; Second Chance spends about $2,000 on job readiness for each ex-offender.

“The recidivism rate of participants remains incredibly low at less than 10 percent versus rates of more than 50 percent on average,” Callstrom says. “This collaboration is changing many lives and their families and our region, one person at a time.”
Callstrom said the program only works because of people like Watkins and companies like Sheffield Platers who believe in giving second chances. Watkins encourages shops to seek out similar programs in their own communities.

“To see how this relationship has blossomed is a credit to Dale, Second Chance and many other partners who have worked so hard to make this project the incredible success is has become,” Callstrom says. “There are more employers like Dale who are willing to give people a second chance. And the more we inform and partner, the more that doors will open and lives can be changed forever.”