DENVER - Christmas Day was a very happy one for David Phares. It was not because of gifts he received, but because the 27-year-old had gotten out of prison just one day before. Three weeks later, Phares was hoping for one more present: a new job."I've applied for a lot of jobs," he said.
Phares and other ex-felons got some help with their job hunts on Monday. The Bo Matthews Center for Excellence hosted an event that matched up job-seekers with businesses that can provide advice and apprenticeships, despite their criminal backgrounds.
"What their past was, what they did before, that's not going to matter," said Denver Joint Electrical Apprenticeship Training Committee (DJEATC) Training Coordinator Dan Hendricks. "If they want to work, we've got a place for them."
DJEATC provides multi-year training programs for a fee, teaching people how to become electricians.
Several other companies also attend the event. Forty-four-year-old Jerry Harris, convicted of drug possession, was one of the first job-seekers to arrive.
"It shows there are a lot of companies that do care and they don't mind my background," she said. "I'm not who I used to be."
Bo Matthews Center for Excellence Project Manager Innael Miranda says the tough job market means it's harder than ever for ex-felons to compete with so many qualified applicants.
"We have people who were laid off, who were managers, who have been with companies for long periods of time and are looking for work. These are people our clients have to compete with," he said.
The stiffened competition is one reason why Miranda stresses the importance of learning a specific skill or trade.
"It's almost mandatory that they have training and certification in order to find a job," he said.
Miranda's organization also serves homeless and low-income residents. He says the nonprofit will soon open its own business to provide clients with jobs.