On Wednesday, March 1, 2017, the first job fair in a San Diego County jail was held for participants of East Mesa Reentry Facility’s (EMRF) culinary training program and Reentry Works San Diego job center. Fifty-six inmates who are within a year of release attended the job fair, holding portfolios containing their résumés and pointers from the San Diego Second Chance Program, the operator of the job center that organized the job fair along with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
Forty of the attendees are participants of the job center. Participating employers included Starbucks, Kitchens for Good, Mirch Masala 2 GO, City Tacos, La Bella Pizza Garden, Royalty Staffing and Roma Market.
Representatives from these businesses took a tour of the culinary training program at EMRF before participating in the job fair, and were able to see individuals at work at the coffee cart, the kitchen — where EMRF staff meals are prepared — and the classrooms.
Kristen Walker, manager of adult programs at SDWP, says, “Being able to see the participants in action was crucial for employers to envision these participants at their workplaces.”
The culinary training program encompasses hospitality training and is conducted by Grossmont College. Participants learn customer service and food handling skills, and earn important certifications such as the food handler card.
“Hiring people who have already had training and relevant certifications will save employers money and time in onboarding new employees,” says Walker.
Simon Baer, deli manager of Roma Market, highly recommends hiring EMRF culinary trainees. He says, “The training program is on par with the best I’ve seen (especially given the circumstances). I’ve hired a few second chancers; their work ethic and dedication is great. If you’re tired of churn and burn in your kitchen, get in touch with Second Chance and you won’t be disappointed. Plus, you’re doing a good thing in the world. It’s a win-win.”
The meaningful conversations at the job fair offered great practice for interviewing skills.
“I went through the class here at EMRF and before I was afraid of interviews,” said Dustin Holder. “But this time I was ready and excited. It made me feel so good having this job fair come to us in jail — it makes me feel as if the county really cares. I think this is going to help many people have the courage to go out and be more motivated on getting a job. I can’t wait to put this to use after I’m released.”
“I was able to make promising contacts and after leaving I feel more confident and employable than before,” shared participant Ryan Williams. “I feel this to be an important opportunity for many of the men here. Thank you.”
“[The job fair] erased any doubts I had in my ability to get real employment,” shared participant Ryan Cox. “The employers I talked to seemed eager and enthusiastic to hire me despite my criminal record. I’m excited to follow up with these companies upon my release. Thank you for this positive experience.”
The conversations also led to some individuals with multiple job offers lined up post-release.
“I was able to get plenty of job offers and a lot of information,” shared Richard Reynoso. “They employers were very kind and very honest about the opportunity that they are offering.”
“After the event I was so happy because I have job interviews and I am going to have a job when I get out for my first time,” shared Malcolm Brown. “I am so proud of myself and I am very thankful…Thank you so much!”