Kentucky Recovery Conference focuses on addressing individual needs to support Kentuckians

The Kentucky business, recovery, and education community gathered to discuss hiring, training, and retaining individuals in recovery from substance use disorder at the Kentucky Chamber’s 4th Annual Recovery in the Workplace Conference.

The conference began with Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy Executive Director Van Ingram discussing the important initiatives to address the substance use disorder crisis in partnership with the Kentucky Chamber Foundation. Programs to help Kentuckians that are struggling are more important than ever, Ingram said sharing that in 2021, over 2,200 Kentuckians lost their fight to addiction.

“That means, statistically, six people will die today from addiction,” he said.

Ingram talked about important policies that have been passed in recent years that are leading to long-term programs to address these issues, including the Recovery Ready Communities program and the Behavior Health Diversion Pilot Program.

“Treatment will yield better outcomes than prison. Locking them up is not working. It’s time to look for something else. And that Senate Bill 90 is something else,” Ingram said.

Kentucky Chamber Foundation Workforce Recovery Program Director Morgan Kirk spoke on the workforce crisis Kentucky is currently facing, which has key root causes including child care deserts, skills gap, justice involvement, and substance use disorder.

Kirk shared the many initiatives of the Kentucky Chamber Foundation to help employers address their workforce needs, which includes the Workforce Recovery Program, Talent Pipeline Management, Kentucky Talent Hub, and the Kentucky Transformational Employment Program.

Currently, more than 70 employers are engaged in the newly-created Kentucky Transformational Employment Program. To help businesses on their path to transformational employment, the Kentucky Chamber Foundation’s Workforce Recovery Program hosted its inaugural Fair Chance Academy with 20 business leaders graduating from the program in June.

DV8 Kitchen and Bakery Founder and Operator Rob Perez talked with attendees about what it means to be a relational leader and shared his impactful experience as a fair chance employer.

Perez said at first, DV8 Kitchen did not solely hire employees that were in recovery. But, after less than a year of being open, they were able to gauge the success of hiring individuals in recovery. Without a doubt, he said the individuals in the recovery houses showed better performance, effort, standards, and relationships.

Perez said that relational leadership pays dividends, and that focusing on people works, instead of focusing on rules, how things have been done in the past, and the bottom line. He encouraged businesses to learn from his experience and asked them to work toward becoming transformational employers.

During a testimonial, Joshua Community Connectors Founder and CEO Kim Moore talked about her journey of substance use disorder recovery and shared how her experiences have helped her lead change across the Commonwealth during critical times. On the importance of second chance employment, Moore said, “If you hire ten individuals in need of a second chance, I bet eight of them will work out. We will be so grateful just because you gave us a chance. Who Kim Moore is on paper is not who I am, and I encourage you to look past that.”

Business leaders that just graduated from the inaugural Fair Chance Academy, representing Goodwill Industries of Kentucky, AppHarvest, and Dorman Products, participated in a panel to discuss their practices of transformational employment and share personal reasons that motivated them to hire individuals in need of a fair chance.

When AppHarvest first started to hire fair chance, they didn’t realize the incredible need for wrap-around services like transportation, housing, and other barriers individuals would need to overcome in order to meet attendance policies and other aspects of the job. To address this issue, the company now uses a 2nd chance coach to help with individual success because fair chance employees often have needs other employees don’t have.

Jamie Johnson of Dorman Products stressed the critical need for employers to address misconceptions about substance use disorder and be intentional about educating those in the workplace about the opioid crisis.

“Don’t fool yourself into believing you’re insulated from this problem because over 70% of those struggling with a substance use disorder are currently working. You are a fair chance employer, it’s just whether you admit it or not,” said Johnson.

Goodwill Industries of Kentucky COO Rena Sharpe said it is the role of employers to give employees the support they need and create solutions to address barriers. She pointed to the second chance agreements Goodwill offers to employees who slip up that allows them to continue with employment. Sharpe said, “Be intentional about giving employees the support they need, because they are going to stumble, and you can’t walk away when they do.”

Kentucky Chamber Foundation Workforce Recovery Program Manager Ryan Bowman said, “We haven’t brought them up here because they have perfected fair chance employment, but they are leading the way and constantly working toward changing lives,” said Ryan Bowman.

The Kentucky Chamber Foundation’s Talent Pipeline Management program is working across the state to help address workforce needs in key industries. As part of an effort to assist the equine industry, a talent pipeline has formed between Blackburn Correctional Facility and Spy Coast Farm in Lexington.

As an employer, Lisa Lourie, owner and CEO of Spy Coast Farm began to notice barriers to success when employing individuals from Blackburn Correctional Facility. She shared the simple steps they have taken to give individuals proper clothing, identification, and more things that will help them feel supported.

Blackburn Correctional Facility Warden Abby McIntire spoke on the Workforce Readiness and Reentry Program that was developed through the partnership at Blackburn to help individuals find work in the industry after they were released. The program includes resume work, interview practice, and other skills employers consider when hiring employees. McIntire highlighted how partnerships like this have led to successful outcomes for returning individuals and the businesses who hire them.

Jackson Kelly PLLC Attorney Catherine Wright talked about the support she provides businesses when they are looking to hire those with a criminal background or in recovery. She said it is important to know how to read and make decisions from background checks, put in place effective workplace policies, and understand what is and what is not negligent hiring.

“It is all about assessing risk, and we found that the reward far outweighs the risk,” Lourie said.

The conference’s keynote address was given by JPMorgan Chase Policy Center Executive Director for Public Policy and Corporate Responsibility Nan Gibson, who shared their company’s commitment to being a fair chance employer and developing and advancing policy solutions for inclusive growth. 

With one in three individuals having an arrest or conviction record, Gibson said the issue continues to have a large impact on employers, individuals, and the economy as a whole.

Gibson highlighted many areas where JP Morgan Chase has successfully implemented fair chance employment practices, which include banning the box on employment applications, conducting background checks after an employment offer, supporting community organizations with similar goals, and much more.

The Recovery Consortium of Kentucky hosted an awards ceremony during the Recovery in the Workplace Conference to recognize individuals in long-term recovery and those who have taken a leading role in addressing Kentucky’s addiction crisis through prevention, treatment, education, and advocacy efforts.

During the ceremony, Addiction Recovery Care President Tim Robinson commended the Kentucky Chamber’s work, and said, “I will never take that for granted that the state’s top business organization is also the organization that is leading the conversation on recovery in Kentucky and in the nation. The work they have done to transform businesses is so important to the recovery community.” 

The 2022 Recovery Hall of Fame inductees include:

  • Jay Davidson Award (Individual in Recovery): Mike Barry, People Advocating Recovery
  • Congressman Hal Rogers Award (Policymaker/Public Official): Former Governor and Congressman Ernie Fletcher, Former Governor Steve Beshear
  • Employer of the Year: DV8 Kitchen

Albert Crout, director of the Kentucky Recovery Career Network at Isaiah House Treatment Center, led a discussion on how and why employers should prioritize recovery and education in the workplace. “People in recovery are with us for a lifetime,” Crout said

When Crout asked why education is important in a company, Isaiah House Co-Founder and CEO Mark LaPalme answered, “We see education as providing hope for a better outcome. If education is the key, it’s always been the key.”

Recovering employees can help improve your business at every stage, said Crout as he offered a roadmap for employers to improve productivity, promotion, and commitment in their workplace.

He stressed the importance of partnerships with like-minded groups to ensure success, pointing to the partnerships Isaiah House has developed with the Kentucky Chamber Foundation, Goodwill Industries, Bluegrass Area Development, Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board, University of Kentucky, Reliance Works, and many other federal, state, and local entities through their innovative recovery programs.

Crout pointed to initiatives of the Kentucky Chamber Foundation’s Kentucky Comeback initiative, which include programs to help expand talent pools, increase fair chance talent pipelines, and provide fair chances training and education.

Alex Elswick, founder of Voices of Hope and Assistant Extension Professor at the University of Kentucky, shared his substance use disorder recovery story. He stressed the need for individuals to have increased access to recovery capital, which includes substance use disorder treatment, peer support, mental health therapy, and more.

“There’s really nothing special about my addiction, but in so many ways there’s something special about my recovery. Because I had access to the things I needed,” Elswick said

When he lost two friends two substance use, he reached out to his therapist to understand how his recovery has led to a different outcome than his friends. His therapist said, “I think people need two things to sustain their recovery: the belief that they do not need the drug and the belief that their quality of life is better without the drug.”

Kentucky Chamber Foundation Workforce Center Executive Director LaKisha Miller ended the conference by asking attendees to think about why they want to get involved with fair chance employment and encourages them to take the first step to become transformational employers.

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