In 2018, Next Chapter was founded at Slack in partnership with The Last Mile, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and FREEAMERICA to change perceptions of those returning home from prison and give formerly incarcerated individuals a real second chance at building a skilled, long-term career.
After their release, formerly incarcerated individuals face a challenging job market and thousands of legal barriers that systematically exclude them from many stable, high-paying jobs. These barriers perpetuate a vicious cycle of poverty, recidivism and trauma in the affected communities, often communities of colour. They also make it difficult for companies to meet their urgent need for engineering talent, as millions of Americans are automatically disqualified for these roles based on their criminal records.
Slack incubated the Next Chapter apprenticeship programme to address these challenges. Individuals re-entering the community receive technical training, professional mentorship and other support to help them build careers in the tech sector, and hiring partner companies are matched with talented, driven engineers. After four years, the impact of this innovative model pioneered by Next Chapter – which is now a fiscally sponsored project of Tides Center – is clear: more than 30 apprentices have graduated from the programme into full-time engineering roles at leading tech companies. Members of early cohorts have continued to advance in their careers as managers and senior managers on their teams.
Building on this success, we are proud to announce that three additional hiring partners are joining Next Chapter and are planning to welcome apprentices to their organisations in the coming year: PayPal, Asana and Stash. They join companies such as Zoom, Dropbox and Square to make a total of 14 organisations in Next Chapter’s network of hiring partners.
‘Next Chapter changed everything for me. I was already motivated to change my life, but having this kind of support made me work even harder and set my goals higher,’ says De’Markus Matthews, a former Next Chapter apprentice who now works full-time at Slack as a software engineer. ‘Being around people who really care about me, believe in me and want me to succeed, that’s what got me to where I am today.’
‘It’s been incredible to watch this programme grow and see the impact it’s had not only on the lives of apprentices, but also on all of our employees and on our culture,’ says Stewart Butterfield, CEO and co-founder of Slack. ‘Working directly with someone who has spent time in prison – to learn their story and see the value they bring to their teams – opens hearts and minds. For us at Slack, this experience has profoundly shifted how we approach our responsibility to build an inclusive, empathetic culture and expand access to opportunity.’
Creating opportunity and equity through meaningful employment opportunities
Every company has the ability to create meaningful employment opportunities within their organisation for formerly incarcerated individuals. No two Next Chapter hiring partners are the same – but whether they have hundreds of employees or tens of thousands, whether they sell enterprise software or provide financial services, whether they’re based in Silicon Valley or the Midwestern United States, what they all share is a deep commitment to building a more equitable workforce through institutional and cultural change.
‘Partnering with Next Chapter is a natural fit with PayPal’s mission and our value of inclusion – contributing to our broader community, providing opportunities for the overlooked or underserved, and working to break down barriers,’ says Erica Gessert, Chief Transformation Officer at PayPal. ‘At the same time, we gain skilled Next Chapter talent. It’s an honour for PayPal to be a part of this programme.’
Ending the cycle of mass incarceration and generational poverty in the United States is an urgent and complex problem that requires intensive coordination across the public, private and non-profit sectors. Slack and Next Chapter are contributing to this larger work through collaboration with the Aspen Institute on a new initiative called Rework Reentry. With research, stakeholder engagement and documentary storytelling, Rework Reentry aims to overcome the employment barriers that prevent returning citizens from obtaining skilled, high-paying jobs that ultimately create wealth for families and communities.
Similarly, within companies, expanding career opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals requires commitment and collaboration across many stakeholders: leadership at the C-suite level and by individual managers; concerted action and support across HR, legal and engineering departments to break down barriers; information and resource-sharing with non-profit partners; and cultural change at the grassroots level among employees. This whole-organisation approach differentiates Next Chapter’s model for workforce inclusion, and sets up returning citizens for success.
‘Grounded in our commitment to hiring talent from diverse populations and backgrounds who have a passion for our mission, we are excited to begin our participation in Next Chapter,’ says Sonja Gittens Ottley, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at Asana. ‘Education paired with professional mentorship opens a world of opportunities, and everybody should have access to them. By becoming an official hiring partner, we’re creating more pathways into our AsanaUP apprenticeship programme, effectively equipping re-entering individuals with the experience and support they need to build a career and make a positive impact.’
‘At Stash, we are building a diverse company and inclusive culture that’s reflective of the everyday Americans we serve,’ says Lynne Oldham, Chief People Officer at Stash. ‘I have seen first-hand the positive impact of hiring formerly incarcerated engineers into an organisation from my work as former Chief People Officer at Zoom, and I’m so pleased to introduce Stash to Next Chapter. This programme will allow Stash to welcome strong engineers with unique perspectives that also match our customers’ needs, as we build our long-term investing and banking solution geared towards the 99%.’
How you can help
Many organisations are seeking talented and driven engineers to join their teams, but for too long, barriers have blocked returning citizens from these opportunities, hurting both individuals and companies. As Next Chapter welcomes more apprentices and hiring partners, we’re changing the conversation about re-entry and the power of second chances – and collectively raising the bar for what we can do together.
We’re proud of the work that we’ve done so far, but we’re far from finished. There is a long way to go to make long-term, systemic change. We encourage others to follow our blueprint for action to create career pathways for returning citizens.
If you are reading this and wondering how your company can get involved, please visit nextchapterproject.org or reworkreentry.org to learn more. You can also get in touch with the team at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.