California company embraces inclusive hiring with supportive New Start Program

Jun 21, 2022   |  By Emily Montgomery

Villara Building Systems is an HVAC, plumbing, and solar company based in Northern and Central California, celebrating its 75th year in business.

Last year, Cory Henderson was brought on to help develop and run Villara’s New Start Program, which hires, trains, and supports employees that traditionally have trouble gaining employment. These hires include refugees and individuals who were formerly incarcerated, formerly homeless, or previously suffering from addiction or substance use disorder.

Henderson explained that Villara’s president Rick Wylie had a vision for strengthening their community and saw increasing career opportunities as a way to do that.

They hired their first New Start employee on June 1, 2021, and about 60 employees have come through the program since it began. Villara employs 1350 people.

Henderson designed the New Start Program with his manager Cameron McHenry. The program incorporates regular check-ins with employees as well as practical classes, helpful resources, and lots of empathy--all the support he wished he had when he was trying to re-enter the workforce.

“I do have a past that qualifies me in a certain way to be able to better serve those who are coming in from these different backgrounds,” Henderson said. He previously experienced many of the same challenges that the New Start program employees have lived through.

“It just gives me a special view into the lives of those who become a part of this program,” Henderson said.

Henderson gets referrals from the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) for employees that would be good fits for Villara. He doesn’t just wait and see if they get hired, though–he is determined to help these potential employees through every step of the process. He meets with the individuals to see if they seem like they would be suitable for Villara and if so, he helps coach them through the application process.

“I do some interview training and some mock interviews with them to make sure that they ace those interviews,” Henderson said.

He finds the experience of supporting his employees as they get hired and begin work extremely rewarding.

“I am here to speak about life and hope to these guys, and that if I have done it, then they can do it,” Henderson said. “I have seen such great things happen within the lives of these men and women as they come in.”

Villara isn’t the only company that has had success with second-chance hiring. More than 80% of HR professionals and business leaders believe workers with criminal records perform their jobs just as well as or better than workers without criminal records, according to a 2021 report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), SHRM Foundation, and the Charles Koch Institute.

Henderson encourages other companies considering adopting inclusive hiring practices to do so. “It strengthens the community,” he said, “and you can’t get a stronger workforce.”