Group says recovering addicts can be one key to workforce crisis

Workers at Narrow Path Plumbing, which is one of the partner companies of Emerge Recovery and Trade Center. CONTRIBUTED

Combined ShapeCaption
Workers at Narrow Path Plumbing, which is one of the partner companies of Emerge Recovery and Trade Center. CONTRIBUTED

Emerge Recovery and Trade Center attacks stigma, obstacles that keep those in recovery from filling gaps in the labor market

XENIA — As local businesses continue to struggle with hiring workers, addiction stigma remains a barrier between businesses in need of skilled workers and those in recovery who need meaningful employment.

Workers for businesses in skilled trades, including plumbing, HVAC, and electrical, are currently in high demand, with some employers reaching a point of desperation, said Dan Edwards, founder of Pivotal Media.

“We have two job positions open for every person looking for a job in this country right now,” Edwards said. “Some of my clients schedule 10 to 12 interviews and they’re lucky to have one person physically come in for the interview, and that person is coming in to satisfy their unemployment requirements.”

“Over and over, the first 30 minutes I spend with my clients, I spend talking them off the ledge because they can’t find workers,” he said.

Emerge Recovery and Trade Center in Xenia, which is developing career training programs in skilled trades for people recovering from addiction, is aiming to fill this need, while at the same time using its model as a framework for how other businesses can position their own workplaces to help those in recovery to thrive.

Emerge Recovery and Trade Center’s model eliminates many of the systemic barriers that prevent individuals from achieving long-term success in their recovery, said Emerge’s director of philanthropy, Elaine Bonner. This includes having a place to live, transportation, learning life skills, mentorship and vocational training, which are necessary to to get their life back.

The Dayton region has 37,000 open jobs in the trades, Edwards said. By making a couple of accommodations to help people sustain their recovery, as well as embracing the “ecosystem” of resources and counseling, Emerge’s founding companies, like Five Star Heating and Cooling, have experienced less attrition, better attendance from employees, and have expanded their businesses at a rapid rate.

“We have people waiting to come work for us,” said Five Star Chief Business Development Officer Christian Rattin. “We hired 135 people in the last 12 months, and with not a lot of attrition either.”

Rattin said the company is doubling its revenue this year.

Candidates for the program will have already completed 30-90 days in residential treatment, before spending a year or longer learning their trade. After that, once hired by a second-chance employer like Five Star, employees have further training and work their way up to going out in the field, Rattin said.

At the same time, Five Star works on the back end to check in with their employees, have regular accountability meetings, and offer resources. Being a second-chance employer doesn’t mean relaxing the standards with which customers are treated, they said. It means providing extra safeguards and support to those employees when they need it.

“When we hire someone, just like any other employer, we are doing the due diligence on the front end to make sure they are in a state to do the job duties that are required of them,” Rattin said. “We’re not taking people out of a 30-day treatment center. These are people who have been in recovery long-term.”

Stigma still is the number one issue for people who have addiction, said Greg Delaney, pastor and community engagement specialist at Woodhaven Residential Treatment Center, which works with Emerge. Only 10% of people suffering from addiction ever seek help.

Many employees at Five Star have addictions that are years behind them, Rattin said, but many societal factors, including health, the threat of relapse, or a criminal record, can threaten their livelihood.

“Nationally, there’s 23 million people in recovery right now; 40 million in addiction. Those 23 million get lost in the sauce all the time. There’s some brilliant people in those 23 million, if they’re given a chance,” Delaney said. “It’s a demonstration that people who are in recovery are one of these untapped resources for businesses and service entities for employees.”

Supporting employees who seek treatment or hospitalization, developing a return-to-work plan, and implementing safeguards for protecting employee health information, are all things businesses can do to make their workplaces more recovery-friendly, Delaney said. Five Star Heating and Cooling provides health insurance for its employees. Rattin said employees were just as likely to get sick as they are to seek treatment for their addiction.

“When we were looking at insurance, which one we were going to go with, at no point in the conversation did it come up. We encourage employees to have regular medical checkups, do everything they can to mitigate insurance costs, things that every employer is doing right now. Whether they get sick or have cancer, or arthritis or a substance abuse problem, these are just people.”

Many of the founders of Emerge, and the leadership team at Five Star have been through recovery themselves. Knowing where other people have been, Rattin said, enables Five Star employees to not be judged, but also to help others along the same road.

“We are purposeful in the way that we profit. We don’t use it to line the pockets of someone who wants a second lake house. We take it into the community and use it for the purpose we want to live by,” Rattin said. “What I do for Five Star, that’s what I do to pay my mortgage and take care of my family. But my actual purpose is to take care of people and help them find the path that I’ve found.”

About the Author