Assessment Task 3: Problem-solving Case Study (Individual
Assessment 3 Case Study: Toll Group and the Second Step Program
Drawn from: Burns, P. (2015) A neo-institutional study of firms that provide “reintegrative” employment opportunities to former prisoners in a liberal individualist society.
Toll Group is a large, international transport and logistics company that employs 45,000 people worldwide and generates $8.7 billion in revenue annually, a position achieved via a bold strategy of acquisition that commenced in 1986 when the Toll business was bought by its then-management team.
It was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in 1993 and is now widely recognized within the industry as a fully integrated, “global logistics giant” (e.g. Stensholt, 2012).
Toll Group is an industry leader that is confident in its market position and pays little mind to the potential social judgment of external stakeholders insofar as its reintegrative hiring program is concerned. Instead, Toll Group is a vocal advocate of reintegrative hiring and endeavours to share with, and propagate among, the business community its workforce reintegration knowhow.
In 2000, Toll Group commenced partnership discussions with ‘First Step’, a community-based organisation in Melbourne which provides holistic support to people recovering from substance addiction. These discussions were sparked by the personal experiences of a senior decision-maker within the firm which underscored the important social contribution that large employers might make by providing decent employment opportunities to people recovering from addiction.
As a large employer, Toll Group decided that it could best support the work of First Step by providing job opportunities to First Step clients, many of whom had acquired a criminal record during periods of addiction. Thus, in 2001, Toll Group established the ‘Second Step’ program and provided its first ‘supported’ employment opportunity – an opportunity “designed to accommodate an individual’s specific support needs to assist them [to] reintegrate [into] a normal work day world” (Toll Group, 2011, policy document). Four years later, the firm levered its experience in employing people with “undesirable histories” (Toll Group, policy document) and extended supported employment opportunities to people recently released from prison.
While First Step continues to remain an important feeder program into Second Step, Toll Group pursued its expanded agenda by integrating itself into the reintegration field, opening up new referral pathways for former prisoners into the firm, and drawing on the advice of its expert partner agencies to establish screening and management processes designed to identify and resolve any reintegration difficulties at the earliest possible opportunity (for example, underlying issues that create punctuality or attendance problems, such as anxiety about returning to work, or entering the mainstream workforce for the first time).
Detailed below, these operational procedures play an important role in reducing the actual and perceived risks associated with the program. Toll Group is conscious that staff members may have concerns about the risks of working alongside former prisoners. Accordingly, the firm endeavours to instil in staff members “confidence that Second Steppers are being well managed” (Participant 21, Toll Group), by ensuring that staff members who express uncertainty about the Second Step program understand the careful design of the program, and the level of support that program participants receive.
Entry into the Second Step program is via a three-stage pre-employment preparation and screening process that ensures candidates are ‘work ready’. For Toll Group, being ‘work ready’ means having any addiction issues under good clinical management, having the foundations in place that are needed to maintain steady work (for example, stable accommodation), and possessing the communication and ‘life skills’ that are crucial to coping with the daily routines needed to reliably participate in working life (Showering, getting clothes organized, having lunch planned, getting to and from work, all those really basic things [Participant 11, Toll Group]). Considerable ongoing support is provided to program participants to help them continue to build and maintain these ‘work ready’ skills once placed in the program.
The initial employment opportunity provided to program participants is a 12 month placement. Typically, participants will work full-time although they may ease into full-time hours over a period of several months. This commitment may also be scaled back to accommodate the needs of the individual when and as appropriate, who may need time off to comply with parole-related conditions or attend treatment programs, for example, drug and alcohol education or treatment programs, psychological counselling, and so on.
The first stage of the screening process involves partner agencies determining whether a client has a suitable level of ‘work readiness’ to be referred to the Second Step program. Suitable candidates are then further screened by a Toll Group staff member who coordinates the Second Step program.
The program coordinator position is fully-funded by Toll Group and is dedicated solely to coordinating the Second Step program. This position reports to an executive who has management responsibility for the program, and who reports directly to the CEO. Typically, the screening process that Toll Group undertakes entails gaining an understanding of the candidate’s needs, their parole obligations (if any), and any outstanding issues or ongoing needs that might require additional support (e.g. outstanding legal issues or mental health issues).
Toll Group does not have a list of offence types that automatically disqualify a former prisoner from consideration, including sex-offences, although the firm has yet to provide a placement for a person convicted of such an offence. The over-arching consideration as regards offence type is the social judgment of other organisational members, should the offence become known among staff. Toll Group strives to maintain the privacy of its Second Step program participants, but some participants ‘self-disclose’ their histories, and organisational members are sometimes “over-inquisitive” (Participant 21, Toll Group) and “google new employees’ names” (Participant 11, Toll Group):
I wouldn’t want someone whose offence caused the wrath of their workmates to fall on them. So if they found out this guy was guilty of bashing up an old lady, they might feel that they have to take justice in their own hands, and we wouldn’t want to put them in the situation, or the Second Stepper in the situation. (Participant 11, Toll Group) Toll Group encourages candidates to be full and frank during the interview process as it does not wish to be taken by surprise by issues that are pertinent to a candidate’s level of work readiness and their reintegration prospects.
Surprises’ are deleterious to the candidate, the firm, the relationship with the partner agency, and, ultimately, the credibility of the Second Step program within the firm. Toll Group encourages candidates and partner organisations to be open during the screening process so the firm can help resolve any issues that might prevent the participant’s successful reintegration into the workforce:
We try and say to the Second Steppers, ‘Give us your worst, and then we know what to cope with. If you tell us your biggest issues, then we’re not going to be surprised by them. So the more we know, the more we can back you up, and that gives you a better chance of doing well. But if you don’t tell us you can’t read because you’re embarrassed about it, and then you’re expected to read something, then it’s not going work for anybody. But if you tell us you can’t read, then we can get you into a literacy program.’
(Participant 11, Toll Group)
The final stage of the screening process is an interview with the manager of the business unit, who will have been educated about the Second Step program. Typically, ‘education’ about the program consists of: familiarising key staff (managers, for example) with the procedural norms associated with the program; ensuring that managers have an understanding of the disadvantaged backgrounds of most former prisoners and the ‘deinstitutionalizing’ effects of prison (as discussed in Chapter 3); and, apprising managers of some of the adjustment difficulties that program
participants may face.
Managers may also be introduced to graduates of the program or members of Toll Group’s partner organisations to instil further confidence in the program. Occasionally, Toll Group arranges for some of its key staff to visit one of Victoria’s prisons and meet prisoners “with an ambition to want to change” (Participant 15, Toll Group). Toll Group’s educative efforts aim to undermine stereotyped views (that is, ‘typifications’) of former prisoners, and to help key staff understand the prison environment, the rehabilitation programs in which prisoners participate whilst in prison, and also the magnitude of the post-release adjustment process.
The success of the Second Step program hinges on three sources of arranged support: the partner agency, Second Step staff members, and an informal mentor who provides on-the-job support in the business unit where the candidate is placed. Mentors are typically trained by one of Toll Group’s partner organisations, and are based on the shop floor within the business unit where the Second Stepper is placed.
For Second Steppers who are ‘strangers’ (Schutz, 1944; refer to discussion in Chapter 3) to mainstream workplace institutions, the mentor plays a crucial role. Essentially, mentors clarify the ‘opacity’ of the workplace social context and help program participants develop the everyday workplace knowledge needed to survive and flourish.
Mentors are a trusted contact on the shop floor and a ‘safe’ person to ask questions about the taken-for-granted, routine activities and unspoken rules of the workplace that managers and co-workers may expect new employees to already know. In other words, mentors are the ‘go to’ person if the candidate has questions about “how these [workplace] things are done” (Berger & Luckmann, 1966/1991, p. 77).
Mentors are not in management positions, but they have considerable informal authority on the shop floor. As expressed by one participant, mentors are highly ranked within the “unofficial food chain” (Participant 16, Toll Group).
This informal authority is important because it is understood within the firm that Second Steppers who are new to the workplace can sometimes be quite vulnerable, including (though reportedly not usually) to stigmatization and that they benefit from being taken under the wing of a colleague who is a good workplace role-model.
Mentors, make sure [Second Steppers] feel comfortable and they’re not exposed to any sort of … when I say ‘harassment’, I’m not talking about being called a certain name or whatever, just that they’re looked after. You line them up with someone high on the food chain, [and] it’s like they know they’ve got their back covered. (Participant 16, Toll Group) Since its first days in 2001, the Second Step program has provided supported employment opportunities to more than 400 people Australia-wide in a wide range of professional, administrative, and shop floor roles, and it engages in a considerable amount of advocacy work in an ongoing manner.
Toll Group currently provides 45 dedicated Second Step placements each year. These placements are fully funded by Toll Group through its corporate centre, which means that business units where participants are placed do not fund the salaries of Second Step program participants, thus alleviating productivity concerns while a program participant integrates into the workforce and acquires the necessary skills and work habits.
Placements are spread across a range of business units and several states, although the majority of the placements are in Victoria where the program commenced and is now thoroughly embedded. As foreshadowed earlier, responsibility for the Second Step program is located in the highest ranks of management (the manager of the program reports directly to the CEO). Approximately 95 per cent of participants secure permanent employment at the conclusion of their placement, which is thereafter funded by the employing business unit within Toll Group.
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