So long to the stigma

Locals launch RetrofitCareers, an online job board for recovered addicts seeking employment

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Working it: Dan Schmalen and Doug Kiker are creating RetroFit, a job portal catered specifically for recovered addicts looking to rejoin the workforce. Logan Krum / Times Photo

There’s an entire pool of job seekers most companies have yet to tap into. But they probably should. Studies show these individuals are more motivated and creative than the average worker. They express a higher level of gratitude to their employer, and are less likely to take sick days and be tardy. So why are companies not clambering to hire these people?

It’s because of the stigma attached to them. The stigma of being a recovered addict.

Thankfully, two men who have witnessed firsthand the post-rehab job hunt struggle are doing something about it. On Friday, Sept. 28, Dan Schmalen and Doug Kiker launched the Bensalem-based RetrofitCareers, an employment website very much like Monster or Indeed. The only difference? It’s explicitly for recovered addicts seeking work and the companies looking to hire them.

Both Schmalen and Kiker spent their fair share of time in rehab facilities over the years, and though they were lucky to be employed after successful recoveries, Schmalen said they’re the exception rather than the rule. Too often, those straight out of rehab are left wondering, what’s next?

“They’re better off than where they were when they went in, but it’s like, OK what’s ahead of me,” Schmalen said.

In his opinion, this is why relapse rates are so high. A good job can give someone a sense of confidence and purpose, a means to get back on their feet and sustain a happy, clean life. For those unable to obtain employment, turning back to drugs or alcohol no longer seems like the worst option.

This is where RetrofitCareers comes into the equation. It helps partner recovered addicts who didn’t know where to turn with companies willing to hire them. The jobs available span all fields and skill levels since, according to Schmalen, addiction does not discriminate.

“There’s a need and it’s across all industries. It’s whether you’re blue collar, white collar,” he said.

The idea for this one-of-a-kind website began in fall of 2017 after Schmalen noticed something lacking at even the top treatment facilities — a job board. He thought, there must be some resource to help people find employment after successful rehabilitation. A Google search told him otherwise.

Schmalen pitched his idea to a handful of fellow recoverees, including Kiker, all of whom loved it. Soon after, an IT professional was hired to create the website. Meanwhile, Schmalen and Kiker have been working tirelessly, sometimes until 1 a.m. after getting home from their “real” jobs, to get companies on board. So far, they’ve had nothing but a positive response. The ultimate goal is to get 5 percent of the 33 million corporations in the United States to use RetrofitCareers.

“To me, it’s not a big number and there are companies out there already that will knowingly, proactively look for and hire people in recovery,” Schmalen said. “But if the site sucks and we only get half of 1 percent of the companies in the United States, we’re still putting to work 20,000 to 22,000 people a year. Who’s gonna cry at that?”

Even if they only end up helping one person, in their eyes, RetrofitCareers will be a success.

“We’re not rich, we’re not wealthy. But we’re dumping our own money into this, and it’s OK because we’re thankful for what we have. And we know what kind of life people have made once they get away from drugs and alcohol,” he said. “It’s the hope. It’s the realistic, tangible hope after recovery, after rehab, that there are companies out there that will hire me.”

When Schmalen and Kiker first set out to create the website, they had the intention of creating a nonprofit organization. What they ended up with is a profit-making company, which Schmalen based on the business model of the Pennsylvania lottery. Companies pay a fee of $250 per job post, with 1/3 of those revenues going toward administration, 1/3 toward advertising, promotion and IT, and the final 1/3 back into RetrofitCareers.

Still, the idea of the nonprofit hasn’t been forgotten, and the two are in the process of setting one up. Once established, that final 1/3 will be put into the nonprofit, which will aid website users even more

“What we’d like to do is create these programs that educate,” Schmalen said.

Though this initiative is still in its developmental phase, it would be geared toward job seekers who found success through RetrofitCareers and are employed by a participating company. The funds may be used to pay for books if they wish to go back to school, transportation costs, or a retirement stipend for older individuals with no 401K.

“We’re not after public funds. We’re not after government funds,” he said. “We want to take those profits and put them into helping people.”

Until then, the key mission will be informing the world about the product, and shattering the stereotypes associated with addiction.

“We got the little flint, and we’re at least trying to get the kindling going,” Schmalen said. “We think it’s going to turn into a blaze once the word gets out.” ••

RetrofitCareers, headquartered at 501 Cambria Ave., Bensalem, can be viewed at RetrofitCareers.com.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com