PORTSMOUTH - Tackling two big problems - the national health emergency of drug addiction and a statewide worker shortage -
Portsmouth Herald - 11/12/2017
PORTSMOUTH - Tackling two big problems - the national health emergency of drug addiction and a statewide worker shortage - Seacoast employers and recovery professionals have a solution.
The way out, they say, is for employers who need workers to hire pre-screened people in recovery. Their plan has been quietly working on the Seacoast, with worker vacancies being filled by people in recovery in a newspaper production plant, in restaurants and at a call center, to name a few.
On Friday, a full-scale "recovery-friendly job fair" will be held in Portsmouth, where 25 employers are expected to be hiring people in recovery, prior success stories will be shared and recovery professionals will offer assurances.
"I don't look at it as benevolent, I look at it as a business decision," said Dana Lariviere, president and CEO of Portsmouth's Chameleon Group, which has employed dozens of people in recovery to work at its call center.
"I'm hoping it will be so big, we'll need a bigger place," said Elizabeth Miller, director of Granite Pathways/Safe Harbor Recovery Center, who is also planning a collaborative employment effort with the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth.
Campbell Lozuaway-McComsdy, general manager for Street restaurant in Portsmouth, said he was struggling to fill vacancies until referrals came from Safe Harbor. Now he has no jobs to fill.
"It's been good so far," he said.
Lozuaway-McComsdy said there's always a demand for dishwashers at Portsmouth restaurants and once those people can prove their reliability, they can be promoted to line cook, then "dreams can come true" when they could be chefs.
"It can be a lifetime thing," he said. "There is plenty of opportunity in the restaurant industry."
John Tabor, publisher of Seacoast Media Group, said his team has been working with Safe Harbor, to pair people in recovery with jobs at SMG's Pease International Tradeport plant, for a month "with good results."
"Our production work involves teamwork and deadlines, and I think the sense of belonging to a team is good for our hires and for us," Tabor said. "Several of our Safe Harbor hires have shown the ability to advance. So we are very pleased."
Lariviere has been blazing the trail by hiring people in recovery for more than a year. When he was profiled in an August Portsmouth Herald story, he mentioned an employee he let go a few years earlier because, while she was a good employee, she had attendance problems. When she asked for and was given a second chance, that's when Lariviere learned she'd been struggling with addiction and had since started her recovery.
That woman was Sarah Rawlins, now an employment specialist for Safe Harbor. After she returned to work at Chameleon in April 2016, Rawlins was promoted to management and Lariviere asked if there were more people like her. She referred 30 more people in recovery to work at the call center within a month.
Rawlins said before they are sent out to the workforce, people in her recovery program have to first work for 45 days as Safe Harbor volunteers to prove they can show up on time and have the commitment to work. During that period, she said, they receive training about workplace etiquette, help with resumes and she gets them haircuts and professional wardrobes if needed.
To get hired through the program and remain working, she said, participating employees must pass random drug tests. Sometimes it's probation officers giving the tests in cooperative workplaces, like Chameleon, other times they're administered by Substance Free Workplace, a participating program member.
"Everyone's hiring people with substance abuse issues," Lariviere said. "The difference is, I know it."
Chameleon's CEO said he's seen some of his workers in recovery start from scratch so they struggle for money for rides to work or to buy lunch. He said if there was funding for a recovery liaison at his business, he would've hired Rawlins for the job. If more employers hire more people in recovery, he said, the state might take notice and fund programs to help workers trying to get back on track.
"If we can get more employers, maybe we can get the state to provide more resources to make those connections," he said, on behalf of his recovering employees, "most of whom have stayed."
Rawlins is organizing the Portsmouth job fair and said she hasn't heard about anything like it in the state. She said employers represented will include SMG, Turbocam International in Barrington, Chameleon Group and a union representing heating and insulation workers. Retailers including Marshall's, Ralph Lauren and H&M, will be represented. Recovery-friendly restaurants hiring at the fair will include Cava and Surf, said Rawlins. Also represented will be recovery organizations including Granite State Recovery, Hope on Haven Hill and RAW Recovery of Concord.
Chris Madden, who is in active recovery, said he'll attend to try to get hired as a recovery coach. At Safe Haven, he's been working toward earning a state Certified Recovery Support Worker certificate.
Thursday's job fair will be at St. John's Episcopal Church, at 100 Chapel St. in Portsmouth, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Rawlins said other employers interested in participating can call her at (603) 498-2420 and she can get them a table. At 11 a.m., at the same location, will be a panel discussion with employers including Lariviere and recovery professionals including Rawlins, to answer questions and make referrals.
The first quarterly Portsmouth chamber educational event will be Dec. 6 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Safe Harbor, at 865 Islington St. in Portsmouth. Anyone from the public and all employers are encouraged to attend, Miller said.
Lariviere said some business owners he's spoken with have called the idea of hiring people in recovery "a little scary."
"It's because they don't know," he said. "There's a group of people out there who, but by the grace of God go I, why would you not hire them? Being fearful of the what-ifs is going to hold this program back."