Finding employees right now is severely hindering our businesses, and there’s a new biz in town hoping to help with this. Pulling from her own personal experience, Nancy Pance is setting out to help connect employers and employees, but in a different way that you might imagine.
Pance is a successful entrepreneur and has recently channeled her passion into her new endeavor “Opportunity Oregon;” a recruitment agency for ex-convicts. Her goal is to encourage employers to consider hiring recently incarcerated members of society.
As a former inmate at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, saying she feels strongly about helping those who have been recently released is an understatement.
More than 70 million Americans have a criminal record and at least 27 percent of them are unemployed. About 50 percent of convicted felons will return to their former way of life because they can’t obtain work.
Pance was informed, upon her release, she had two options, find work or go to school. If she did not do either of these, she would need to return to prison to serve the remainder of her sentence. Unfortunately, at the time of her release back in 2010, job applications included a checkbox for applicants to indicate whether they had a conviction record.
“It’s kind of scary when you’re in an institution, and then suddenly you’re free,” says Pance. “You’re on your own and you’ve got to do all these things.”
Unfortunately for Pance, she could not find a single place of employment that was willing to offer her a job or an interview. “Nobody would give me a chance,” she said. “I’m like, I’ll take a job anywhere; just let me work.’ And I’m starting to get stressed out. I’m thinking I’m gonna go back to prison because I can’t find work.”
After Pance was turned away time and time again, she decided it was time to go to school. She went on to receive her degree in business administration with specializations in accounting at Central Oregon Community College and got her first job in sales at a cell phone company.
Her ultimate goal was to start her own business, which resulted in the launch of Opportunity Oregon, which is located in Springfield. Opportunity Oregon is a recruitment agency that will pair recently released job seekers with employers who are willing to give them a chance.
Through Opportunity Oregon, Pance screens her clients and selects only the top 10 percent of current inmates who prove they are changing their behaviors in prison. “I want to see what type of inmate they are in there, to make sure that they are making those changes in their life,” she said. “Those are the ones that I want to help place, because if they are showing that pattern and behavior change in there, then that’s my prime choice.”
“Part of the eagerness to hire former convicts is the benefits they receive by doing so,” says Pance. Employers are entitled to a $2,400 Work Opportunity Tax Credit for hiring an ex-felon who has been released within the last year. Additionally, employers can receive up to $5,000 insurance through a federal bonding program. While statistics show, formerly incarcerated people who obtain work, do not re-offend, employers are still offered this insurance option.
“National studies show that the quality of work and the longevity of employment is greater than if you’re just going to hire someone off the street who doesn’t have a criminal record.” says business partner and brother, Joseph Carmack.
Since Pance’s release, she has known that one day she would be sharing her story with the world. She wanted people to get to know who she is before hearing about who she was for a period of time. “Having been through the same trials herself, she has a unique vantage point and empathy that aligns with what we’re trying to accomplish with Opportunity Oregon,” Carmack said. “Our unique relationship with the Oregon Department of Corrections, and knowing what we’re looking for, gives us the ability to pair the right people for that kind of work.”
We spoke with Margaret Hayes, CEO of HP Ventures, LLC, who recently hired a previously incarcerated individual at one of their Great Clips locations. “It’s no secret that businesses are experiencing staffing issues. Salons especially seem to be hit hard along with restaurant workers. Opportunity Oregon came to one of our salons and introduced their business to our GM,” says Hayes. “The idea was intriguing so we decided to meet with them. We were impressed with the well thought out program. The passion and commitment from Nancy Pance was also hard to ignore. We believe in her story and were compelled to work with Opportunity Oregon.”
Working with a company like Opportunity Oregon means a great deal to not only the incarcerated member, but the employer as well. “We believe in second chances for those who are willing to put in the hard work. No one is perfect, as long as someone is trying we will work with most anyone,” states Hayes.
Hayes says she would “absolutely” recommend Opportunity Oregon to other businesses that are in need of good help and that are wanting to make a difference.
“Everyone deserves a second chance after paying their debt to society,” says Nancy Pance, “and hiring ex-offenders strengthens companies, communities, families, and the economy. Our mission is to help employees see these benefits, and send them the rehabilitated people who will prove it.”