DETROIT – They’re the jobless Americans who’ve lost hope.
Often, they’ve got criminal records, have served prison time, lack cars and live with mom. Many are no longer young after fighting substance abuse for decades. Some can barely read and flub easy math problems.
Yet, amid Michigan’s booming job market, here comes a job fair aimed straight at them, with job recruiters eager to forgive most any job seeker’s troubled past.
“We’re going to have felony-friendly employers signing people up for apprentice programs, and lawyers and a judge at our expungement seminar (to wipe criminal records clean), and a lot of other opportunities that can really change someone’s life,” said Percy Johnson, a veteran pipe fitter at GM’s Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly Plant that builds Cadillacs, Buicks and the Chevrolet Volt.
Johnson is an organizer of the job fair, scheduled for Saturday near downtown Detroit. The event is a joint program of the UAW and IBEW – the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
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Johnson, 63, of Troy said there’s never been a better time – perhaps not since World War II – that just about anyone willing to show up, work hard and learn new skills can get a good-paying, even a great-paying job.
“We’ve had guys and women who really served some hard time, I mean years and years (in prison), and now they’re making $25, $35, $45 an hour, and this is without any college,” Johnson said, referring to a similar job fair held last year at a UAW union hall in Detroit.
As of Thursday, the state’s Pure Michigan Talent Connect website estimated that nearly 107,000 jobs were going unfilled in Michigan. But some say demand is even greater as Michigan companies race to install robots when they can’t get humans to punch in and do the work, and as trucking firms count the minutes until self-driving trucks solve their shortage of drivers.
Both the UAW and IBEW expect to have recruiting reps at the site, but the job fair also is welcoming other recruiters, including those for construction trades and truck driving. Also on hand will be numerous advisers from such organizations as Family Assistance for Renaissance Men, Focus: HOPE and Wayne County Community College.
Johnson said he finds candidates for life-changing career slots not only at union job fairs but also at barbershops, at his church in Detroit and by word of mouth. One of his success stories is Jeremy Champion, 25, of Detroit, who said he accepted a plea bargain for criminal sexual conduct while serving in the U.S. Army, then served six months and received a dishonorable discharge in 2014, which seemed to mark him for life as hard to employ.
Yet, with Johnson’s cheerleading, Champion tried volunteer work for Focus: HOPE, then got tutoring to hone his math and reading. Now he’s an apprentice electrician, “with a nice middle-class living – I’m just happy,” Champion said. He’s also grateful to Johnson.
“Percy kept after me – ‘Be on time, hold your head up, keep moving forward.’ I just appreciate Percy for everything he’s done,” Champion said.