There's been a shift in the job market. Where job seekers after the economic downturn in 2008 found themselves scrambling to find work, companies are now lamenting the talent shortage, often competing to recruit from the same pool of experienced workers.
Demand generation firm Televerde stays largely above the fray, though, preferring to develop sales and support talent in a less conventional way: The company runs five of its six US contact centers out of women’s correctional facilities, employing more than 350 inmates in lead development and inside sales roles. Through those centers, the company does inside sales and demand generation work for SAP, Avaya, and Dell, among others.
The selection process is highly selective, and the women routinely describe the 4-6-week-long training program as "the hardest thing they've ever done," according to Michelle Cirocco, Televerde's chief marketing officer. But the skills those Televerde employees learn help them to turn their lives around upon their release.
"The average recidivism rate in the United States is 45-65%...[those are] people [who] will return to prison within five years of their release," says Michelle. "However, the women who work for Televerde... our recidivism rate over the past 24 years is just 6.1%."
By providing inmates with training and helping them find jobs when they're released, Televerde creates a positive chain reaction in the communities it serves. Michelle herself recently spearheaded event planning for TEDxPerryvilleCorrectional at the Perryville Prison Complex—the first TEDx event to be held inside an Arizona women’s correctional facility.
Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:
Why search for skilled employees when you can train them yourself? (09:05): "We are a sales and marketing agency focusing in generating demand and accelerating sales for our clients, but we are also a company that was founded for a social purpose. We have built our company based on the idea that we could provide opportunities for people to have a job and a meaningful career in a population that is somewhat unexpected.
"We started the business with a contact center in the women's correctional facility here in Arizona, back in 1994, and that has served as the foundation for our business since the very beginning. Today we employ about 650 people globally in nine call centers...from the US and Scotland to Argentina and Australia. Five of those facilities are located in women's correctional facilities here in the United States, employing about 350 women in corrections.
"They work in jobs as lead development reps, sales development reps, project managers, reporting systems, analytics. We have people in every single department that are working inside the correctional facilities, learning a new skill and a new job that will lead to a meaningful and rewarding career upon their release."
Hiring from inside a correctional facility isn't so different from hiring in general (13:21): "It's the same as if you were hiring for any other job in the market. There's a population of people that are available for us to hire from. When we have openings available, we post the job and they apply. They have to meet a certain set of criteria, starting with a GED or a high-school diploma. They have to be able to type 20 words a minute. They do a written test and then they do an interview to ensure that they can communicate effectively and clearly, and then we'll choose the best of the best for that hiring class. Typically we hire in groups of about 6-10 people.
"They go through an intensive training program that starts with business basics, then on to learning to make phone calls and technology basics: everything from the technology marketplace that they would be exposed to. After four to six weeks of that training, they go on the phones in a mentoring program, and they continue to build their skills. We have ongoing training for them so that they can continue to improve their skills with the ultimate goal of all of the reps becoming sales development reps or inside sales reps where they're actually closing business.
Many companies use events in their marketing mix, but Televerde brought this approach to a whole new level, organizing a TEDx event inside Perryville Correctional in Arizona (15:17): "It was my passion project this year. I originally wanted to do a TED talk myself, to share the idea of what Televerde does as a business with the rest of the world, so that perhaps more people could take advantage of an opportunity to provide jobs and training for people who were less fortune and could benefit from it.
"But as I want down the path, I realized it would be a great opportunity for the women in the prison to be involved in having a TEDx. So in April of this year, we hosted TEDxPerryvilleCorrectional at the women's center in Arizona. We had approximately 275 people who attended. We had 13 people who delivered TED talks. Half of them were ladies in orange and half were community members here locally in Arizona. Those talks are all available on YouTube or on the TEDxPerryvilleCorrectional Facebook page."
Partnering with Corrections to expand your marketing organization isn't easy, but it changes lives (22:23): "Have an open mind. And recognize that it won't be easy getting started. There will be bumps along the way, but at the end of the day, it can be the most rewarding thing you've ever done for yourself and for the community in which you operate."
To learn more, visit Televerde.com or follow the company on Twitter @Televerde, and check out TEDxPerryvilleCorrectional for inspirational presentations, as well. You might want to start with Televerde founder James Hooker's talk, "My Journey From Privilege to Prison":
Michelle and I talked about much more, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.
Michelle Cirocco, head of global marketing at demand generation company Televerde. Cirocco was instrumental in Televerde's hosting TEDxPerryvilleCorrectional, the first TEDx event held inside an Arizona women's correctional facility. Follow Televerde on Twitter: @Televerde.