Seven years ago, Jahaun McKinley could not have imagined his life today — a thriving career, a place in his community as a mentor and role model to at-risk youth. That’s because as of 2009, McKinley had spent more than half his lifetime — 19 years — in prison. Now he’s part of a growing hiring trend that is solving western Michigan’s skilled labor shortage in unexpected ways. “When I came out, I didn’t have any work experience other than what I’d done while incarcerated,” says McKinley, who was 18 when he entered prison on a felony assault conviction. Soon the rejections piled up as he struggled to find a foothold in a job market that treated his criminal record like a scarlet letter.
Everything changed, however, when a local nonprofit connected McKinley to his current employer, Cascade Engineering — a Grand Rapids manufacturer that has been creating career pathways for those returning from prison for over a decade. Six years and two promotions later, McKinley oversees six of their plants as a Lead Manager and is one of their top employees.