Just about every one of us knows someone—near or far—who has struggled with substance use and/or legal troubles. When it comes to recovering, having a stable job is key to the success of those individuals who need to regain their self-confidence and other skills.
Fair Chance Works is a Keyhorse-backed company that helps people recover and re-enter society by placing them into jobs and continuing to support their professional growth. Founded by Scott Stuckey, the company is educating employers about the many benefits of hiring from fair and second chance labor pools, and helping to break stigmas along the way.
We asked Scott a few questions about his journey, inspirations, and predictions for the future of employment outcomes for all people.
How did you become interested in helping people find meaningful employment?
SS: In a sense, I’ve been working in this capacity off and on for much of my life. I started teaching when I was well in my thirties. Honestly, knowing that the world needed science teachers and that I had a degree in Biology, I thought teaching would be a convenient way for my family to relocate and allow me to transition to a different career. As it turned out, I enjoyed being in the classroom and interacting with high school students on a day-to-day basis. And while I realized that not everyone “geeks out” on science the way most motivated teachers do, I felt that I had a positive effect on quite a few of the students I had the honor of teaching. It’s an old adage, but true, that teachers aren’t in it for the money. It’s the sense of purpose and the occasional “thank you” that comes from students years after they’ve been taught that keeps you going. After eleven years, I left the classroom and worked as a facilitator helping my fellow teachers integrate more instructional technology with their students. While I worked that job for another ten years, I quickly realized how much I missed interacting with the kids. As an educational researcher, my contact with students was limited to the brief periods of time when I would be running a study. Today, I’ve somewhat come full circle as I’m helping adults from all types of backgrounds develop skills that help them find and maintain gainful employment, which is a huge factor in helping reduce relapse and recidivism. Plus, the sense of gratitude you receive when working at a recovery center or jail can be almost overwhelming. The vast majority of the people we now work with struggle with barriers to re-entry to society but are intrinsically motivated to change their lives for the good and they sincerely appreciate the help that we provide. And as we tell every group on the first day of training: “We’re here to learn as much from you as you are from us”. It’s truly a mutually beneficial relationship.
What inspired you to co-found a company?
SS: Fair Chance Works PBC (FCW) represents the third startup company that I’ve founded. The first, a commercial photography studio in Miami, Florida, dated back to the 1980s and lasted for about a decade. I then began a 20+ year career in K-12 education and formed the second company based largely upon my dissertation research on non-traditional student assessment in STEM education. With R&D support in the form of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from USDA, NSF, and matching awards from Kentucky’s Cabinet for Economic Development, we developed a learning and assessment platform that was very well received but faced huge barriers to commercialization. We sought and were granted a pivot to workforce development just prior to the pandemic and were soon introduced to the Director of Employment Services at the Fletcher Group Inc. (FGI), a nationally renowned non-profit organization co-founded by former KY Governor Ernie Fletcher and his wife Glenna, that delivers technical assistance to housing providers and treatment facilities that assist individuals recovering from substance use disorder. Based on our outcomes and growing traction after a highly successful one-year pilot with FGI, I was encouraged to form a more investor-friendly company than the limited liability company (LLC) I was operating at the time. Hence, FCW was formed and is registered with the Commonwealth as a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC). I chose to form a PBC instead of a C Corp as while both types are for-profit organizations and essentially treated the same in terms of taxation, board requirements, capital distribution, etc., a PBC is also held accountable for contributing to the good of the public and operating responsibly and sustainably—which our business model inherently reflects.
Plenty of statistics exist that show when given the opportunity, this highly motivated employee group consistently outperforms candidates from the general public in terms of longevity, overall performance, days present on the job, and loyalty to their employer. We’re also finding out that so many employers simply don’t know about the many benefits associated with fair chance hirings.
Tell us about your team: Who’s on it, and how did you meet?
SS: Our team is quite small at the moment, but we are gearing up for rapid expansion in the near future. Our COO, Christopher Lipscomb, joined the team nearly three years ago. I met Chris through a capstone MBA course at The University of Kentucky, where I was asked to sponsor a team where the students assumed various business administrative roles and struggled with many of the same challenges that I was experiencing as the founder of a startup. Chris led his team as CEO and took quite an interest in our strategic goals and what we were trying to accomplish. Upon graduation that Spring, I offered him a part-time job which converted to full-time in about six months. He is a critical component of our team, highly dedicated, and a dear friend. Our commercial strategy is assisted by an expert consultant, Dr. Mahendra Jain, who served for 16 years as the Executive Director of the Kentucky Science and Engineering Foundation. Dr. Jain led the Kentucky SBIR/STTR Matching Funds Program from its initiation and assisted more than 120 companies with commercialization efforts. The information and knowledge gained through our partnerships with FGI have also helped us increase the effectiveness of our technology and services while reaching a wider audience of those in recovery. Finally, and in addition to the recent support from Keyhorse Capital, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the business development organizations that have helped us along the way. These include Launch Blue, Awesome Inc., EKCEP, Base Here, SKED, Invest 606, SOAR, and Kentucky Highlands, to name a few.
Where do you see employment outcomes for people in recovery and others headed in the future?
SS: For a number of reasons, I’m quite optimistic that gainful employment opportunities for those in recovery are going to increase well into the future. For one thing, the current labor shortage is causing many employers to finally consider hiring from fair and second chance labor pools. Plenty of statistics exist that show when given the opportunity, this highly motivated employee group consistently outperforms candidates from the general public in terms of longevity, overall performance, days present on the job, and loyalty to their employer. We’re also finding out that so many employers simply don’t know about the many benefits associated with fair chance hirings. For example, in Kentucky, depending on the number of incentives an employee qualifies for, plus the type of job being offered, programs exist where an employer can be compensated 50-75% of their fair chance employee’s wages, earn up to $12K in tax credits, and receive fidelity bonds up to $25K if the employee does harm to the company or its customers. Plus, given the unfortunate fact that so many families have now been directly affected by the opioid epidemic, the surge in overdose deaths, and the prolific saturation of drugs like fentanyl and meth, I believe that some of the stigma associated with substance use is finally starting to peel away. We’re also witnessing increased awareness through our governing officials. For example, Kentucky has sponsored Senate Bill 90 (SB-90) which is designed to enroll eligible defendants into facilities that provide access to treatment instead of being held at detention centers. Given that attaining gainful employment is a leading factor in reducing recidivism, employment training programs such as ours will be offered as part of the treatment protocol. Then, upon successful completion of their program, their charges are immediately expunged and do not become part of a criminal record. We are excited to partner with the Fletcher Group as they will be working in collaboration with SB-90’s four-year pilot which is scheduled to take place in eleven counties and is expected to serve roughly 2,400 individuals each year. If successful, this program will extend to all 120 counties in Kentucky by the end of this decade. So yes, I remain very optimistic about fair chance employment opportunities for the future and am excited to position the company in a place where it can play a vital role in this movement.
What does success look like to Fair Chance Works in the short term and long term?
SS: Short term success for Fair Chance Works revolves around bolstering revenue by increasing the number of clients that we serve. While we are confident that our attention to the personal details surrounding each jobseeker sets us apart from our competition, reliance on such labor-intensive services produces a business model that’s challenged when scaling the service to include statewide and, eventually, a national audience. Fortunately, I foresaw this difficult hurdle and envisioned an innovative technological solution to resolve much of the time constraints and tediousness associated with evaluating and providing highly personalized feedback to our clients. To that end, I’m very proud of the fact that I am the inventor of a nonprovisional Utility Patent issued by the USPTO last September. We are currently seeking SBIR R&D funding from the National Science Foundation and other federal and state agencies to bring this concept to reality. When fully developed, this innovation has the potential to revolutionize how video products of learning are initially evaluated, provided with corrective feedback, and digitally manipulated to serve as a highly effective model for self-improvement. With such an innovation, FCW will improve our quality of training, extend our services to include a much larger population, and do so at a fraction of the program’s current costs. For the long term, we are also designing an employment platform specifically for fair chance labor, one that is far more transparent than what currently exists. As a result, member employers will be presented with qualified candidates through a highly transparent forum with introductions that assume a far more human-like approach compared to what currently exists. Thus, the platform will save employers time and money while dramatically improving the jobseeker’s odds of being hired.