Accenture and Goodwill Develop Virtual Experience To Help People Impacted by the Criminal Justice System Enter the Workforce

Originally published at Accenture is ranked No. 5 on The Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2020.


Goodwill Industries International has teamed with Accenture to develop an innovative virtual experience called Project Overcome. The experience is designed for people impacted by the criminal justice system who want to enter the workforce. Through a simulated interview experience and a series of stories, users will speak face-to-face with a human resources manager and hear from individuals who overcame challenges they faced when seeking and earning employment after incarceration.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 650,000 individuals are released from prison each year, and approximately two-thirds are rearrested within three years. As these individuals transition into the workforce, they need to be able to achieve their education and employment goals. Project Overcome uses virtual reality to give users a 3D immersive experience in a mock interview with an HR manager and a coaching session with a career counselor. This experience is based on realistic scenarios often encountered by individuals who were formerly involved with the justice system. Additionally, six individuals who were impacted by the criminal justice system share their real-life journeys to finding employment. The program uses a branched narrative approach to these dialogues, with the capacity to create millions of unique combinations of how the training can play out — all depending on the individual user’s choices. The goal is to assist people with finding employment by helping them speak comfortably about their incarceration during their job-hunting process, while also learning to use modern technologies in a low-risk environment.

“Project Overcome helps individuals through a unique experience so they can feel empowered to tell their own narratives about their backgrounds to prospective employers,” said Steven C. Preston, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International. “People impacted by the justice system often experience inequities over the course of their lives coupled with limited work experience and little to no financial resources, stable housing or support systems. This program offers the possibility for the trajectory of their lives to change and allows them to re-establish themselves as contributing members to their communities.”

The virtual solution is a result of collaboration with Accenture, which has long supported Goodwill Industries International’s workforce development efforts as part of its Skills to Succeed initiative, which aims to support and empower people to take on the shifting workforce landscape and build a more economically inclusive world. Since September, the global professional services company has provided a grant and pro bono consulting to Goodwill to develop new ways to address the challenges those impacted by the criminal justice system experience when entering the labor force. The nine-month in-kind engagement with Goodwill includes a series of interviews and surveys of potential users and employment professionals, as well as the development and piloting of the proof of concept.

“COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on individuals who were already at risk of being left behind, including those who have criminal backgrounds,” said Jimmy Etheredge, CEO – North America, Accenture. “It’s in our collective interest to lift each other up as we recover from the health, economic and social crisis of the century. When we unleash the combined power of technology and human ingenuity, we can remove barriers and create pathways to opportunity.”

Dan Guenther, extended reality lead at Accenture, added, “Project Overcome demonstrates how VR technologies can be applied to practical, real-world challenges — in this case, by simulating the high-stress job interview situation and allowing users to roleplay in a risk-free environment. The instant, interactive feedback provided allows users to refine or rework their approaches, building the muscle memory and confidence required to successfully interview in person and enter the workforce.”

Ten community-based, nonprofit Goodwill organizations are implementing Project Overcome, including Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit (Detroit, MI); Gulfstream Goodwill Industries (West Palm Beach, FL); Goodwill Industries of Mississippi Inc. (Ridgeland, MI); Goodwill Industries of Northwest Ohio (Toledo, OH); Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas (Kansas City, MO); Goodwill Industries of Kentucky (Louisville, KY); Goodwill Industries of West Michigan (Muskegon, MI); Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh, PA); Goodwill Industries of Northern Illinois and Wisconsin Stateline Area (Rockford, IL); and Goodwill Industries of Central Ohio Inc. (Columbus, OH). Many of these organizations serve the largest number of people impacted by the criminal justice system throughout the Goodwill network of 156 nonprofit organizations in the United States and Canada.

Each year, more than 82,000 people impacted by the criminal justice system achieve their education and employment goals with holistic reintegration services from Goodwill organizations.