Cultural Changes in the New Workforce

Today’s blog begins our first of a four-part series that looks into cultural changes in the new workforce.

Reentrants or returning citizens, is the term used to describe those who are leaving the criminal justice system and returning to their communities.  In the United States, this number has been estimated at 600,000 annually*.  In an era of almost full employment, you would think that this would be the perfect opportunity to give people who made a mistake, paid their dues to society, and want to restart their life a chance.  This should be a ‘no-brainer”, people who need a job balanced with millions of unfilled jobs across the nation–unfortunately it’s not that simple.

During my time in the Navy we had our own culture; with our own unique language.  A wall was a “bulkhead”, the floor was the ‘deck”, and a door was a “hatch”.  We had certain ways of dress and expectations that we all abided by.  It worked for us because everyone knew and understood where everyone else was coming from.  If you had dropped a civilian in the middle of that, he/she would probably think we were speaking a foreign language!

In speaking with many reentrants, they talk about the culture shock they face when they return to society. Technology, family relationships, and cultural norms have always been in a constant state of change.  The tools and norms they had to adopt while incarcerated are vastly different from the norms of everyday life.  We often fail to account for this when we develop workforce training programs to help reentrants.

So is it really too far-fetched to understand that reentrants have lived within a very different culture?  The challenge too many workforce programs have is that they completely ignore that fact.  We spend millions giving reentrants (and other hard to serve people) training in needed occupations without factoring in the cultural differences. Competencies like how to resolve conflict, time management, and teamwork are the result of their cultural experience and are often at odds with what the expectations of the workplace are.  This results in millions of dollars in wasted training, at a time when our workforce needs “all hands on deck.”

Are you working with reentrants and looking for innovative ways of providing cultural competencies towards workplace success? Contact me at for more information.

The VALL Group specializes in assisting workforce development boards, WIOA programs and operators, economic development, community based organizations, secondary and post-secondary educational institutions, and private industry in strategic and comprehensive workforce development plans. For more information or to connect with the team, please visit or email

*Sourced from a 2018 University of Maryland study on “Residential Relocation and Recidivism”

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