Detroit job fair offers assistance to formerly incarcerated
Percy Johnson offered encouragement and advice to a steady stream of job seekers who stopped by his table Saturday morning at a job fair in Detroit.
Some of the attendees wanted a new job that paid more money. Others had criminal convictions and said that has made it difficult to get hired.
Johnson, a veteran UAW pipefitter and event organizer, told men and women about apprentice programs available even to people with felony records. They were encouraged to consider careers as electricians, plumbers, carpenters, iron workers, truck drivers and in information technology.
“I’m a tradesman,” Johnson, 63, of Troy, told the Free Press. “It gave me a good lifestyle. That’s basically what everybody wants is just a chance to have a good lifestyle. I’ve just always been one if somebody needs information to help lift themselves up, I’m going to give it to them.”
Lamont Gladney, 26, of Taylor, attended the event and is hopeful it will help him find work.
“I’m really looking for a job because I need one,” he said, explaining that he’s applied for more than 20 jobs recently, but hasn’t been hired yet.
He was convicted of furnishing a cell phone to a prisoner and said he is now trying to get his life back on track.
“Once I did that I told myself I’m never doing nothing like that to put myself back in that situation,” Gladney said.
Several other people were in similar situations at the job fair, which was a joint program of the United Auto Workers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers held in Detroit’s Corktown area.
Charlene Blake, 31, of Warren, said she is looking for a career, not a job. A past drug conviction has made that challenging, she said.
She currently works as a cook, but aspires to have a carpentry career some day.
“A lot of people don’t think you can change,” Blake told the Free Press of her past experiences.
Ida Byrd-Hill talked to job seekers about a free nine-month program run by the nonprofit Uplift, Inc. that prepares people for entry-level network engineer work. She said many people at the job fair didn’t realize it was so easy to get into the IT industry.
“They’re learning today that there are potential opportunities that they have overlooked,” Byrd-Hill said. “But if they dig in and buckle down that they can go into, despite their record.”
Johnson encouraged people who missed the job fair to attend Skilled Trades Task Force meetings. Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones is the chairperson and holds monthly meetings where there is discussion about job opportunities and apprenticeships.
More than 300 people attended Saturday’s job fair and an expungement forum hosted by Wayne County Circuit Judge Deborah Thomas. She has been doing the forums for at least 20 years.
Over time, the law has changed and people who were once denied an expungement may now be eligible, Thomas said.
“It’s about letting people know that this is an option,” she said. “And it can change lives.”
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