Overcoming barriers to employment


Over the last several decades, the number of Minnesotans throughout the state with some type of a criminal record has increased to an estimated one million, or one in five. Some estimates put it even higher. Minnesota has the eighth highest percentage in the nation of its citizens incarcerated or currently on some type of supervision — in 1982 it was one in 98, in 2013 it was one in 26.

Many Minnesotans are turned away from employment for which they are qualified even though their record may be unrelated to the job. In addition to this are the high racial disparities in Minnesota’s criminal justice system, combined with racial disparities in other areas of opportunity that make the impact of these records particularly devastating for African American, Latino, and Native American job-seekers.

According to the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development, racial disparities in unemployment have received much attention in Minnesota recently. Blacks were three and a half times more likely to be unemployed than Whites in December 2013, with an even larger gap during the recession. Moreover, the post-recession improvement in Black employment rates started almost two years after that of Whites and Hispanics, meaning more Blacks remained unemployed longer.

What do these statistics mean for people of color with barriers to employment? This snapshot looks dismal for people of color, and these factors have even greater significance for those who face barriers to employment due to mental illness, homelessness, long-term caregiving, welfare and full-time homemaking. These are life events that usually create wide gaps in one’s employment record.

However, many resources are available, and laws have recently been put in place to support job searchers who are re-entering the workforce. Below are a few resources and tips to help you if you are struggling to break any barriers to employment.

First of a three-part column



The “Ban the Box” law 

As of January 1, 2014, employers can no longer use one’s criminal record as a pre-screening mechanism. However, if an applicant is interviewed, employers can make employment contingent on an acceptable background and reference check.



The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is the state’s principal economic development agency. DEED programs promote business recruitment, expansion, and retention; international trade; workforce development; and community development. DEED provides effective job search resources to displaced workers, low-income workers, veterans, seniors who are returning to the workforce, adults who have been incarcerated, and persons who deal with blindness, but still have the capacity to work.

Employment barriers for welfare recipients and other low-income workers may range from childcare, transportation, and emergency financial needs to domestic violence, mental health, and substance abuse. Go to http://mn.gov/deed/job-seekers/ for program participation requirements and additional resources.


City of Minneapolis

Qualifying Minneapolis job seekers can obtain employment and training services through the Minneapolis Employment and Training Program, employment resources at Sabathani Community Center (WERC), Minnesota Workforce Center Hennepin South and Minnesota Workforce Center Hennepin North. For more information, go to www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/cped/metp/JobSeekerSer vices.


Avoid being screened out

No one wants to be screened out in the first round of interviews. It can be discouraging, especially when you don’t know why you were not selected. An effective job search includes strategies to avoid getting screened out.

Identify your weak spots and strengthen those areas. Review your resume, cover letters, employment gap rationales and potential interview question scripts for errors and remember, typos are not acceptable. Many resumes and applications have been refused because of grammatical errors and failure to follow instructions. Be sure to read the fine print on every application.

According to WorkNet Training Services, applicants in transition should be sure to:

• Compose a key message

• Provide a credible reference

• Offer facts

• Demonstrate what you can do

• Create a memorable story (i.e., tell how you have changed since being incarcerated; describe the moment you decided to obtain your GED; etc.)

Remember: 95 out of 100 resumes and applications are never seen by the person with the power to hire. Use these tips to make yourself stand out from the crowd.


Look for regular “Ready for Work” columns on finding, keeping and succeeding in meaningful work. Tammy McIntyre, M.Ed. is a workforce development consultant providing individuals and small businesses with career development services. She welcomes reader responses to mcintyre_tammy@rocketmail.com.