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Harley-Davidson opens employment opportunities to ex-offenders

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If people don't think they have a shot at a job, they are unlikely to bother applying.

But with one small yet impactful maneuver, Harley-Davidson Inc. is working to defeat that first shadow of doubt in prospective job candidates.

The motorcycle manufacturer is looking for employees for its Springettsbury Township plant, but won’t be asking them about a possible criminal record. It’s known as banning the box, or removing the box that applicants check when asked by an employer regarding their criminal history.

Traditionally, employers have asked potential candidates if they had a criminal record. Gov. Tom Wolf introduced a policy last May that removed the question and any queries about criminal history from job applications for non-civil service employment applications for state agencies. It took effect last summer.

Because Harley-Davidson is a private company, it is not required to remove or include the question from its job applications. However, the private sector has been under pressure in recent years from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The agency has been asking employers to limit inquiries into the criminal histories of job applicants, arguing that the questions can have a disproportionate effect on minority candidates.

Efforts to ban the box resonate with Terry Davis, owner and CEO of Keystone Correctional Services Inc. in West Hanover Township, Dauphin County. The organization helps find jobs for men recently released from prison.

Often, Davis said, these individuals have been passed over as potential candidates purely because of that checked box.

“Banning the box gets people in the front door,” he said, adding: “It’s a good start to get people to be at least looked at to determine whether they’re a good risk or not.”

Harley-Davidson is expanding its production lines and creating hundreds of jobs over the next year. The company is expecting to fill between 125 and 150 positions on its assembly team over the next two months, according to Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of York County Economic Alliance. He expects Harley to fill 450 positions overall by next year. Harley-Davidson was not available as of press time for comment.

Last year, Harley-Davidson announced it would be cutting 118 jobs from the Springettsbury plant and sending them to Kansas City along with its Cruiser line of motorcycles, leaving the York County plant with 800 employees. Spokeswoman Bernadette Lauer said in 2016 that Harley-Davidson had 1,010 fulltime employees at the York County plant. During a nationwide job cut that same year, 200 regular and casual union employees were affected – more than 100 positions of which were at the York County facility.

But earlier this year, the Milwaukee-based company said it would be closing its manufacturing operations at its Kansas City plant and moving them into the company’s Springettsbury Township facility.

It’s no secret that employers struggle to find good workers in this economy. Billboards all over Central Pennsylvania are advertising openings.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the unemployment rate for York County as of March 2018 was 3.9 percent – the lowest it has been in years. In Cumberland and Lancaster counties, the rate was 3.4 percent. It was 4.1 percent in Dauphin and 3.9 percent in Lebanon.

The No. 1 complaint in manufacturing is that employers are unable to find people, said John W. Lloyd, president and CEO of Mantec, a nonprofit consulting firm that works with manufacturers.

“The workforce shortage is severe; companies are feeling the pain of not having sufficient people to fill customer orders,” he said.

One tactic companies are using are informational sessions designed to create an atmosphere that puts applicants at ease and educates them about the company and the nature of the job before they commit to completing an application.

Another technique that employers use is “open interviews,” Lloyd said. During open interviews, applicants are guaranteed an interview at certain times, while providing an opportunity for the applicant to ask questions about the company, the work and the organizational culture.

Manufacturers increasingly are open to hiring individuals with criminal records, particularly those convicted of non-violent offenses, Lloyd said. 

“We’ve heard of minimal negative impact on companies recruiting and hiring people who have been incarcerated,” he said, adding that in other industries, like health care and education, it may much more problematic to hire ex-convicts.

Davis noted that while Harley’s hiring effort offers a benefit to ex-offenders, it doesn’t ensure them a job.

“Ex-offenders still need to market themselves as a candidate afterwards, which is where we come in,” Davis said.

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Emily Thurlow

Emily Thurlow

​Emily Thurlow covers York County​ for the Central Penn Business Journal. Have a tip? Drop her a line at ethurlow@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter @localloislane.

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