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Have you noticed that there is no ‘labour shortage’ of professional footballers?

Have you also noticed that there seem to be few obstacles to talented players remaining employable despite setbacks, such as a criminal conviction, that would significantly derail the job prospects of lesser mortals?

Ever wondered why?

One word: money.

It’s hard to grasp how much money the very best footballers in the world command.

Liverpool’s re-emergence as a power in English and European football has coincided with a number of factors, including the 2015 hiring of Jürgen Klopp (2019 and 2020 FIFA Coach of the Year) as their first team coach.

Undoubtedly the player who has made the largest difference has been Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah whose value to the team was further highlighted when he scored a 17-minute hat-trick in his team’s 5-0 demolition of Manchester United in the most recent round of the English Premier League.

Salah’s representatives are currently negotiating a new contract with Liverpool’s executives. A current stalemate is reported to be Salah’s £400,000 (AUD 732,000) a week wage demand.

To put that into the context of a local professional footballer’s salary Salah is asking for AUD $38 million per year. Compare that figure to Australia’s highest-paid footballer, Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin, who earns $1.5 million per year playing for the Sydney Swans in the Australian Football League, remuneration that represents a mere 4 per cent of Salah’s requested salary.

There is no shortage of professional footballers because every player has the desire to improve their performances in order to be signed by a club who will pay them more money, for longer, than their current employer.

The clubs’ willingness to pay such extraordinary sums of money for the best players is driven by both the prestige and financial rewards on offer for the clubs that win the most glittering trophies. Unsurprisingly the clubs that have the highest wage bills tend to win the most important trophies.

Higher wages for better and scarcer skills ensure that the market for professional footballers remains, largely, in equilibrium.

A criminal record rarely impedes the employment prospects, or salary, of a talented player.

Arsenal is one of the most successful clubs in the history of English football and former captain, Tony Adams, is one of the club’s best-ever players. Adams is the only player in English football history to have captained a title-winning team in three different decades.

Yet, infamously, Adams spent two months of the 90/91 season in prison after crashing his car and returning a blood alcohol level four times the legal driving limit. Not only did Adams retain his contract but he also returned to the team that season and then played for another eleven seasons, retiring as Arsenal’s second-longest serving player.

Unfortunately for workers without highly valued skills, a criminal conviction has long been an insurmountable obstacle when seeking honest and steady employment with career prospects after incarceration.

Five weeks ago I wrote about New York’s Greyston Bakery which, since 1982, has had a successful history of hiring many former prison inmates. If you want to experience the commitment of a former inmate who has been given a chance to redeem themselves through employment then set aside 16 minutes and listen to Dion Drew’s story.

U.S. Rubber Recycling, based in California, has long had a practise of hiring former felons. The recent pandemic-induced surge in demand for their product (exercise maps largely contain recycled rubber) has required a ramp-up in staffing which the company has been able to accomplish because there is little competition for the people they find to be a ready source of immediately available labour – former criminals.

Researchers have found that with each successive year that formerly incarcerated people remain free without committing another crime, the likelihood of their returning to criminal activity declines. And after five to 10 years, that person has no higher probability of committing an offense than someone with no record.

The difficulty, as U.S Rubber Recycling has found, is that many formerly incarcerated people come with challenges in their personal life, including addiction and family violence, and have few life skills to deal with these emotional challenges. These many challenges have seen the company’s turnover rate for those with convictions is about 25% higher than for others without criminal records.

The key to making appropriate employment matches, that stick, is largely down to avoiding the blanket disqualification of former criminals for jobs.

Disqualifying a person convicted of fraud from working in a company’s accounts department makes sense but not hiring them to drive a forklift doesn’t.

Fortune’s 2021 Change the World list, honouring companies that use the creative tools of capitalism—including the profit motive—to address society’s unmet needs included, at number 17, Checkr “Build a Better Future With Fair Background Checks”. This is what the list’s authors said;

This HR tech company aims to help people with criminal records build a more equitable future. Checkr uses A.I., “story modules,” and human analysis to help employers such as Lyft and Netflix determine whether an applicant’s arrest or conviction history is relevant to his or her job qualifications. (Often, it isn’t.) In 2020, Checkr helped “unblock” 1.5 million applications; this year, the goal is 3 million.

There’s an opportunity for an innovative recruitment agency to do something bold in the community of former felons in the spirit of one of Australia’s largest and most successful recruiters, Talent International.

In 2014 Talent launched their own not-for-profit, Talent Rise, whose key objective is to change lives by breaking the cycle of young people suffering from intergenerational unemployment to change lives.

Are you willing to open your clients’ eyes to misunderstood, hidden, and untapped talent pools?

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