Character Counts in the Trades

April 22, 2015
Youthful mistakes can haunt you for life.

Many prisons have programs designed to teach inmates a trade that will translate to an honest living when they get released. This is an admirable effort at rehabilitation, but not a place I would recommend for any kind of job training.

A prison record is a big handicap to overcome no matter how skilled you might be, and even misdemeanor convictions can haunt you for the rest of your life. For understandable reasons, most employers want nothing to do with ex-cons. Here and there prison authorities and social service agencies have convinced certain employers to take a chance on rehabbed offenders, but you can be sure they will be under close supervision and penalized for mistakes that might be tolerated in people without records.

If you are one of those budding trade workers who has made a youthful mistake and paid your debt to society, I want to encourage you to hang in there. Stay straight and keep looking for an employer willing to take a chance on you. They are out there, although admittedly harder to find that those who will slam the door shut without even talking to you.

However, the larger message is to those of you budding trade workers with a clean background. Keep it that way. If you hang around with a crowd that’s into drugs or other forms of mischief, understand that nothing hampers your career development more than a criminal bust.

As I’ve noted numerous times in these blogs, trade work is divided into two basic sectors: new construction and service. Construction workers typically work at unoccupied jobsites amid a rough and tumble culture. Prison-trained trade workers are likely to find more opportunities there than with a service firm.

Service trade workers do their work inside peoples’ homes and businesses, often being alone with female residents. The vast majority of residential service employers are concerned about liability issues and their reputations, and thus will absolutely not hire ex-cons for this type of work. This isn’t universally the case. I’ve known a few service company owners willing to take a chance with people who seem truly reformed. But I think it’s safe to say that 90%+ will not take a second look at a job applicant with a criminal background, even for relatively minor offenses.

Perhaps it would be a better world if all of us were more forgiving and willing to overlook youthful mistakes. But that’s not the world we live in. if you are intent on a trade career, the best way to deal with the real world is to stay out of trouble.