Chanlyut’s new job club helps the formerly incarcerated and newly sober launch their careers
In the fourth week of Chanlyut’s new job club, a participant named Vernon mentions that he recently tried to take his driving exam. Originally from the Lower Yukon area, Vernon is living at CITC’s Chanlyut house, which offers a three-month residential program for men who want to gain employment skills and maintain sobriety.
When he went to take his test, Vernon was turned away because the truck he was driving — which belongs to his father — had a crack in the windshield.
Another member of the job club speaks up; there’s a driving school at the university Vernon could go to. Another job club attendee knows about a resource that loans cars to driving test-takers.
“This is how a typical job club is supposed to work,” pointed out Jeff Steeprow, a workforce development coordinator with Alaska’s People. “The members work together to solve problems. As coordinators, we’re just here to facilitate the conversation.”
CITC offers peer-based job clubs through several of its programs. The Chanlyut job club, which was launched two months ago and meets weekly, differs from other job clubs in only one way: Its members are all either working on their sobriety, rejoining society after incarceration, or both.
“The goals for our job club members — those are the same for anyone looking to find a job or start their career,” Jeff said. “Each individual faces different barriers to employment, so each conversation is going to be different. Here, we’re talking about addiction and criminal history. But we’re still building skills, building their confidence, giving them the tools they need to market themselves.”
After recent changes reduced the amount of job-training provided by the Chanlyut program, CITC’s newest department, Alaska’s People, stepped in to offer the job club. This grant will also provide a new computer lab onsite at the Chanlyut house, allowing residents easy access to create resumes, write cover-letters, and apply for jobs online; in the meantime, club members make regular visits to Alaska’s People to use the department’s computer resources.
As the club grows, members will also be able to collaborate with other departments across CITC. Programs like Career Ready and Subsidized Work Experience will provide on-the-job training and skills development for men ready to take the first step into employment.
But it all starts with job club.
On the same day Vernon brought up his driver’s test issue, another member, Mike, points out that he’s got a bad criminal record. “When you fill out an application online, a lot of employers see I’m a six-time felon, and it’s an automatic no,” he said.
Through job club, though, he has learned a way around that. “If I go in person and introduce myself and be honest about my history, I can make a good impression and win an employer over before they judge me about my application.”
Job club members chime in with other suggestions and advice. Jeff suggests that when the men find an employer they’re interested in or a job they want to pursue, they “do the research and go ahead of time to make the good impression first.” Through Alaska’s People, Jeff is able to help identify businesses that hire individuals with a criminal history or who have barrier crimes.
But he also encourages the members of the club not to limit themselves.
“When people say, ‘Who hires criminals?’ I always cringe,” Jeff elaborated. With the power of Alaska’s People behind the club, he said, it’s possible to help Chanlyut job-seekers strive for the career they want, rather than settle for the work they believe they can get. “I say to our club members, ‘Make them tell you no.’ Start with where you want to work, what you want to do, and we can have conversations about how to open those doors.”
“The Chanlyut job club members are motivated and excited,” he added. “They’re looking inside themselves and realizing they are employable. They’re seeing, ‘I might have addiction or incarceration in my life, but I still have a lot to offer.’”