Lessons from research in real-time: part one

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At Kelley Indianapolis, faculty research is as regular as the setting sun. Throughout the year, in addition to their teaching responsibilities, professors conduct research, submit papers to top-tier journals, edit papers written by their peers, and present at academic and professional conferences and workshops across the country and, often, around the world.

Many times, that research immediately translates to lessons students can learn here at Kelley—directly from those who’ve conducted the research themselves. Just ask Elizabeth Malatestinic’s students.

The senior lecturer in human resource management introduced her class to Kelley colleague and management professor Christopher O.L.H. Porter, who shared his research on RecycleForce, a local not-for-profit organization that offers recycling services while providing life-changing workforce training to formerly incarcerated individuals.

“The professors here at Kelley Indianapolis do a lot of interesting and important research, but this particular study by Dr. Porter jumped out at me as something that could have immediate practical implications for our HR majors, especially those who are already working in the field,” explained Malatestinic.

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Elizabeth Malatestinic, senior lecturer in human resource management, introduces Christopher Porter, professor of management, to her HR class.

Porter, a Kelley Venture Fellow, along with Don Conlon of Michigan State University and Cindy Devers of Texas A&M, has spent the last several years conducting research at RecycleForce. One of the researchers’ goals is to identify a fine-grain model to show what the re-employment process could look like for ex-offenders working to successfully re-enter society.

Porter and RecycleForce President Gregg Keesling spoke to Malatestinic’s human resource selection class, a required course for HR majors. Most of the students are seniors, and many are already working in HR.

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Gregg Keesling, President of RecycleForce, speaks to Kelley students.

“What Dr. Porter has started is something that can help employers all across the country: to be able to see this population as a labor force willing to work, wanting to work, wanting to be a part of organizations, so I’m excited about it,” said Keesling.

Over the course of an hour, Porter and Keesling introduced RecycleForce, the idea of a transitional job, and how to structure a transitional job so it can be effective, and they left the students with some takeaways, giving future HR professionals insights they may not have had before.

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Professor Christopher Porter presents his team's research to a Kelley HR class.

“I thought it was really eye-opening for the students to look at the issue of employing ex-offenders from a completely different viewpoint than they may have been exposed to in the past. Employers too often disqualify anyone with a conviction, and while we talk in class about how the EEOC strongly discourages that practice, I thought it was important for students to see the human impact of the issue,” said Malatestinic.

“There are some unfortunate barriers to employment,” Porter explained. “One of the things I think is particularly important for those of you who are currently working in HR positions and those of you who plan on doing that, is this statistic: 60 percent of employers say they would be unwilling to hire someone who’s got a criminal record. This barrier affects a lot of people.

“Most adults define themselves by their professions. There was a meta-analysis done in 1995 that revealed employment as the single most important factor to help reduce reoffending traits,” said Porter.

“This doesn’t sound like the kind of research business schools would do, but it can be. Research can be whatever you’d like it to be. Think about the things that interest you.”

Porter has a criminal justice background. He received his master’s degree in criminal justice and began a PhD in criminology before moving into business administration.

“We chose to examine the experiences of people coming out of prison and looking for work,” Porter said. "This research has the potential to have an impact in terms of how we think about ex-offenders and the resources we offer them."

As you’re put into a position where you could be the person hiring, keep this in mind: Transportation and money for the job search are two of the biggest challenges for many of these employees.

Christopher Porter, IU Kelley School of Business Professor of Management

“As we spoke with these employees, a lot of them talked about that moment in the interview when the person looking at the application sees the felony conviction. That’s when the tone of the interview completely changes.

“I’m going to encourage you to think about not calling them ex-offenders,” said Porter, leaving students with several thoughts at the end of his presentation. “They’re people. They just happen to have a record. A lot more people have records than you think.

“As future HR professionals, you might want to think about what these folks need. They need high expectations. Employees will meet expectations employers set. They need some flexibility. If their parole officers call them or if they set a court date, they need to be available. And what do they want? They just want a second chance. We heard that over and over. To some extent, I agree. The other thing they’re hoping for is fair treatment. They want consideration when they send out an application.”

There were plenty of questions for Porter and Keesling at the end of their presentation: How do you suggest an HR person approach that, when they see that box checked on the application?

“Give them feedback. Be nice about it. Be fair. Don’t be afraid,” said Keesling.

“My hope would be that you guys could have some influence on removing that box from the application,” said Porter. “It’s almost impossible to get over that once you’ve seen it. Otherwise, for now, I would hope HR professionals would push that back until later in the process, when they can decide whether or not the person is the right person for the job independent of that information.”