Challenges facing job seekers

Hidden barriers to employment are rampant, especially for those in reentry. By their very nature these barriers may not be obvious, but they must be overcome if the job seeker is going to be successful.

Larry Robbin, a nationally known expert in the area of workforce development, gave participants at the 2011 Workforce Development Summit in San Jose, Calif. in November advice on just how to do it. But it’s far from easy, as many job developers and counselors know quite well.

Many people face barriers to employment that they don’t want to talk about. One out of three people have criminal records, for example, Robbin says. Ex-offenders may have other barriers as well, such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), illiteracy, or problems resulting from domestic or gang violence.

Why are these barriers to employment hidden? Because a lot of shame exists around the barrier, people are trained to hide them. And sometimes they don’t even know these barriers exist.

“The barrier may be so common in their world that they don’t see it as a barrier,” Robbin says. “If someone lives in an area where substance abuse is rampant or illiteracy is high, they might think that’s the norm.”

“Also, you’ll find that people with AIDs or criminal histories are afraid to disclose them, because they’re afraid they’ll be treated differently.”

You have to look at these barriers not just as barriers to employment but as barriers to retention and advancement once they get the job.

Here are some of the most common examples:

  • PTSD. Although one always associates post-traumatic stress disorder with soldiers returning from battle, homeless people test at three times the level of PTSD that combat veterans have. About 75 percent of the incoming freshman class at Compton High in L.A. has PTSD because of all the killings they’ve seen.
  • Relationship control and domestic violence. This can be either from gangs or dating. We should ask job seekers “How do you make decisions?” Is there someone you turn to make decisions and is that healthy, or is someone trying to control that? Once you know the situation you can work with them.
  • Traumatic brain injury. One in four returning vets have this. Babies and kids who have experienced shaken baby syndrome also may have this condition, which can produce memory loss and reading issues.
  • Unsafe or unstable living situations. People couch surfing or doing a lot of partying may have trouble in interviews, because they’re not sleeping well.
  • Fear of leaving income support systems (welfare). One way to get over this barrier is to bring in role models who’ve left welfare and been successful.
  • Drug and or alcohol problems. Heavy alcohol or drug use can result in memory loss.
  • Fear of the world of work. This is a huge hidden barrier. In the fast food industry, 43% of people don’t show up for their first day of work after being hired. In all jobs across the board, 25% of new employees don’t show up.
  • Criminal history. This will be handled in different ways depending on the type of crime committed.
  • Literacy problems. People who are illiterate or semi-literate have special problems that must be dealt with.

Now that hidden barriers have been defined, in our next blog entry we’ll talk about how to deal with them.


$10-$20 can make a difference and provide funding to send job search books to prison and jail libraries and expand our tattoo removal outreach.

Posted in Stumbling Blocks.

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