By Pauleen Payne (Editorial Support: Linda Johnson)

Youth between the ages of 18-34 are over represented in the Canadian criminal justice system and require unique career support for them to be successful on their career paths

Young adults with a criminal record present a unique set of challenges to career development professionals. According to Public Safety Canada, over 23% of men and 4% of women between the ages of 18-34 have criminal records and these numbers are growing due to legislative changes, which have doubled the waiting time to apply for a record suspension and quadrupled the application cost.[1] The 18-34 year age group is overrepresented in the criminal justice system, making up 65% of criminal cases but only 29% of the overall population.[2] These formative years are integral to the development of a career path and a criminal record can become a significant barrier to employment at this life stage. Therefore, effective career support for this marginalized group is critical.

Advice from a career professional

Amanda Stumpf, an employment consultant (job developer) with Lutherwood Employment Services in Kitchener, ON, has 12 years’ experience supporting clients in finding work. She emphasized that realizing success with this population demands strong interpersonal and counselling skills on the part of the career professional, involves a long-time commitment, includes the use of outside resources to provide wrap-around support and requires a solid understanding of the labour market.[3]

Strong interpersonal/counselling skills

Stumpf emphasized the importance of building a strong connection with clients to lay the foundation for success. She pointed out that empathy and understanding for the client is just the beginning. Clients with criminal records often feel overwhelmed and have feelings of shame, anxiety and hopelessness. As clients feel the ongoing support of the career professional, an environment of trust is established. The relationship grows and clients’ self-confidence and belief in themselves develop, resulting in the clients feeling motivated to move forward.

To build rapport between counsellor and clients, Stumpf uses several tools including:

  • Motivational interviewing: giving autonomy (control) to clients to make their own decisions
  • Narrative analysis: listening to clients tell success stories and realize their skills
  • Pros and cons list: listening to clients reflect on the benefits and costs of all choices and thus decide what is most important
  • Draining the pool of anxieties: encouraging clients to express the roots of their anxieties thereby freeing themselves to move forward

Stumpf lists important career professional attitudes core to supporting this demographic:

  • A belief in the potential of each person to find gainful employment
  • A non-judgmental approach
  • A dedication to serving your clients

A career practitioner’s guide from the Government of Alberta on working with diverse clients, What Works: Ex-Offenders, supports Stumpf’s relationship-building approach, emphasizing, “Growth occurs in situations where clients feel trusted and empowered.”

A long-term commitment

Stumpf gets to know her clients over a period of weeks and months through the Youth Job Connection Program. She gets to know their goals, strengths, abilities and personalities. She sees each client several times a week in the beginning, noting that a commitment from clients is critical to success. She meets for a variety of reasons including:

  • Investigating job goals: discussing what type of work clients would find most desirable
  • Discussing the job search: asking clients to plan work search tasks and following up
  • Developing marketing materials: working on clients’ resumes, cover letters, etc.
  • Supporting employment: continuing to meet as often as needed (daily, bi-weekly, weekly) while clients are working, to validate their feelings and offer encouragement

Wrap-around support

Clients with criminal records will require support outside of a career practitioner to help them successfully find and maintain employment. Stumpf notes it is common for clients to have faced tremendously stressful life circumstances. These outside services can help clients see a wider window of opportunities and feel hope for their future.  Some of the services Stumpf has referred clients to include:

  • Housing, food hampers, clothing, laundry, walk-in clinics, dental clinics
  • ID documents
  • Personal counselling services
  • Literacy and computer skills
  • Education counselling (Stumpf has not yet had any clients with a criminal record who have post-secondary education)
  • Credit counselling

What Works: Ex-Offenders adds that clients will also often need transportation, work clothes and a bank account in order to secure employment. A continuum of services including health care and child-care support may also be required.[4] Ultimately, agencies need to co-ordinate the provision of these services so that the process is efficient and any associated stigma for the client is minimized.[5]

The strong link between low literacy and crime needs to be acknowledged. Daily life is harder for people with low literacy, so they are more likely to feel frustrated and dissatisfied. They struggle with problem-solving skills, tend to be less active citizens and feel like outcasts. With literacy and other training, they develop a more positive self-image and feel proud of what they have achieved. Their new skills and self-esteem help them avoid one of the main causes of criminal activity – unemployment. Literacy improvement and other educational and training advancements can be lengthy so support during this period is important.[6]

Labour market knowledge

Clients’ anxieties about the job search can be significantly decreased with the knowledge that the career practitioner has a solid understanding of the local labour market and connections with employers who do not require criminal record checks. Stumpf highlights the importance of understanding job duties and working conditions at various jobs that match with clients’ skills and personalities. Stumpf’s list has grown over many years of watching and listening closely for employers who do not ask for criminal records checks – it is not a topic discussed openly – and often focuses on three main sectors that she knows offer job opportunities to clients with criminal records:

  • Manufacturing
  • Construction
  • Food Industry

Helping people with criminal records move forward in their career is tough; employment options are limited and clients often face a multitude of other barriers. Hopefully, the advice in this article can help career professionals to better serve this vulnerable section of the population.

What can your staff and organization do to better equip and prepare to effectively support people in this unique situation?


Pauleen Payne is currently enrolled in the Career Development Practitioner program at Conestoga College. She is interested in supporting clients with criminal records and other significant challenges to employment. Payne volunteers at the Lutherwood Employment Centre in Kitchener, ON and has a background in managing an adult ESL program as well as teaching at all age levels.

[1] McMurtry, R., Doob, A. (2015, June 17). Making pardons tougher to obtain is harsh and unfair
TheToronto Star.  Retrieved April 13, 2016 from:
[2] Adult Criminal Court Statistics in Canada, 2013-2014.   Majority of Adult Court Cases Involve Young Adults. Retrieved March 14, 2016 from:
[3] Stumpf, A. (2016, March 8) ¬In Person Interview
[4]Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services (n.d.).  Employment Supports and Related Services.  Retrieved March 13, 2016 from:
[5] Myers, K., Smith-Fowler, H, Leonard, D., Conte, N., Gyarmati, D. (2011). Career development services and skills development programs: Gaps, innovations, and opportunities.  Social Research and Demonstration Corporation final report.  Retrieved March, 16, 2016 from
[6] Literacy and Policing in Canada (n.d.) Target Crime with Literacy (n.d.) Retrieved March 13, 2016 from: