Partnering with Manufacturers to Help Justice-Involved Individuals Succeed

 In Articles



Unlocking Post-Prison Workforce Potential

Second chances and redemption are instrumental
to the national ethos—instilled in the American
dream and our way of life. But a significant part of
the population has too often been left out or not
given the same opportunities: people serving or who have
completed prison sentences.

Despite improvements in some areas over the last two
decades, the United States still has one of the highest
incarceration rates in the world, and the problems don’t stop
there. Here are some sobering statistics:
• More than 1.6 million Americans are currently incarcerated
(The World Prison Brief)
• There are 505 inmates for every 100,000 citizens in the
U.S. (Statista Research)
• Nearly half (44%) of former inmates are rearrested
within the first year of their release; and 68% are rearrested
within three years (U.S. Department of Justice)

The high recidivism is attributed in part to economic
barriers stemming from a lack of educational access, as well
as stereotyping people with criminal records. These factors
can make it virtually impossible for previously imprisoned
citizens, especially those who are minorities, to find gainful
employment. According to the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI),
the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people is
nearly five times higher (27%) than it is among the overall
U.S. population—and it is worse than the peak overall rate
during the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, U.S. manufacturing continues to be plagued
by labor shortages and a widening skills gap. According to
Deloitte, 2.1 million manufacturing jobs are expected to be
unfilled by 2030.

Teaming Up on Hard Knock Opportunities
While serving their sentences, it’s clearly beneficial
for incarcerated men and women—as well as society at
large—to have access to vital resources that can help them
succeed and become rehabilitated as free, educated and
contributing members of the workforce upon release.
Until recently, such grandiose plans have been difficult
to achieve. But, thanks to some innovative partnerships
involving registered apprenticeship programs (RAPs), the tide
is turning. RAPs are a proven way to build a workforce with
a quality education and the skills necessary to fill manufacturing
jobs. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor granted
more than $130 million to develop, modernize and diversify
RAPs in 15 states.

Last year, staffing specialist Hamilton-Ryker Solutions
received a State Apprenticeship Expansion, Equity and
Inclusion (SAEEI) grant in Kansas to coordinate several
groups dedicated to helping underutilized individuals and
expanding the U.S. manufacturing workforce.
“Because apprenticeships are very collaborative
between government, employers, workforce boards,
education and community resources, it is our job as an
apprenticeship intermediary to bring all these parties
together to launch and manage these programs,” explained

Material Handler Coordinator, Industrial Manufacturing
Maintenance Technician and Maintenance Technician are one-year
programs, while the Welding RAP is two years. Apprentice David
Jurado is shown here. (All photos provided by KMW)

Shari Franey, chief operating officer at Hamilton-Ryker. The
company, she added, saw this as an opportunity to engage
an underutilized yet eager segment of the population—
incarcerated individuals.

Founded in 1971, Nashville-based Hamilton-Ryker
manages some 3,500 apprenticeships nationwide through
its TalentGro workforce development division. In Kansas,
Hamilton-Ryker is partnering with Tooling U-SME, Viapath
Technologies, KMW Ltd. and the Hutchinson Correctional
Facility, which has offered RAPs to residents of its minimum-
security unit since October 2022.

In the first six months, 17 residents have entered the oneyear
Material Handler Coordinator, Industrial Manufacturing
Maintenance Technician and Maintenance Technician
programs, as well as a two-year Welding program.
Apprenticeships in Dock Working and Metal Fabrication have
also been approved.

Training for Success
Despite the population’s higher unemployment rate, formerly
incarcerated people want to work. In fact, 93% of these
individuals between 25- and 44-years-old are either employed
or actively looking for work, compared with 84% of the general
population in the same age group, PPI reported.
Making adult basic education, high school/GED,
post-secondary education and/or vocational-training
programs available to incarcerated people reduces recidivism.
Formerly incarcerated people who participated in these
programs were 30% more likely to be employed soon after
being released, according to research by Rand Corp.
“We’re preparing individuals, when they are coming out
of these facilities, to be able to have a job where they can
be fully employed and have something that they’re looking
forward to,” Franey said. “They have a skillset, they have
income… And, as we know, the risk of recidivism substantially
lowers when they have all of those different elements
within their life.”

The program includes a mix of classroom-style training
called related-technical instruction (RTI)—provided by
Tooling U-SME )—and on-the-job training/learning (OTJ/
OTL). Tooling U-SME’s Apprenticeship Frameworks support
nationally recognized Department of Labor apprenticeship
programs and are easily incorporated into existing programs
or used as a foundation for new apprenticeship programs.
The online RTI courses are accessed by Hutchinson
resident apprentices on Viapath tablets. Viapath works with
nearly 2,000 facilities with its technologies deployed in 30
state DOC contracts in more than 640 counties.

“The Kansas Department of Corrections was already in
contract with Viapath to provide tablets to our resident population,
really mostly as entertainment,” said Misti Kroeker,
deputy warden of Hutchinson Correctional Facility. “I think
one of the reasons why this moved so easily and so quickly
is we already had the avenue to deliver the educational
format in place.”

RAP participants are assigned a Viapath tablet to use
during evenings and weekends. Two residents have already
finished their course work, despite having just started in
October 2022. Now, all that’s left is to continue their OTJ
with the agricultural manufacturer.
Learn, Work, Earn, Live

KMW manufactures front-end and backhoe loaders for
leading tractor brands. The 57-year-old firm employs about
200 people, depending on market needs and seasonality, at
its plants in Sterling, Great Bend and Lyons, Kan.
Apprentice Erin Boykin has already completed the year-long
Tooling U-SME related technical instruction. He is now focused on
completing the required on-the-job training.

“We just seem to keep adding customers… (and are) in a
big growth phase,” Thomas said, noting it’s a “good problem”
to have. But hiring qualified workers during such growth
spurts can be challenging.

“You know, we’ll do good for a while, the labor force
stays strong and then the turnover starts and we’re back
to scrambling again,” Thomas lamented. “That’s one of the
reasons that I got involved with the private industry resource
through the Kansas Department of Corrections.”

Through industry partners, correctional facility
residents are able to work for local businesses while
incarcerated. KMW had already hired 45 Hutchinson
residents before Thomas learned about RAPs last year,
she said. Some of those employees subsequently took
RAP courses themselves to help broaden their skills. One
participant stayed with the company after being released,
and has been promoted to a supervisory role while
finishing his apprenticeship.

“Obviously, I know some of them want to go back to
wherever they came from,” Thomas said. “But then there
are several that have said, ‘You know what, this is a great
opportunity and it’s a great company to work for. We like it
here and we don’t want to go back (to previous homes).’”
During OTJ, resident apprentices work up to 40 hours a
week on the shop floor and receive hands-on training from a
KMW mentor. This provides them the skills and knowledge
necessary to be proficient in a targeted occupation. OTJ
lasts a year for competency-based occupations, or 2,000
hours for time-based occupations. To keep pace with
improving skill levels, KMW conducts performance reviews
and wage increases every six months.

“That’s an even bigger incentive for them,” Thomas said.
“They’re getting (raises) on top of what they would normally
get for a performance review.”

The program has been a success for everyone involved.
The 20 available spaces were filled in less than two months
after the program was announced, and many more residents
have signed up to be on the wait list, Kroeker noted.

“The residents were almost ecstatic that we enabled
them to get into this program, because so many of them
are looking at it as a way to earn a certification in a field that
they can use once they are released,” Thomas said. “(It)
gives them a better opportunity for supporting themselves
and their families and having a better chance of getting a
better paying job.”

Workforce development is an investment in a company’s
future as skilled workers become harder to find and organizations
place a greater emphasis on training and retaining
current employees. “(Apprentices) are investing in themselves
and doing the learning, and the organization is investing in
them as well by providing the on-the-job training, and many
organizations are now turning to registered apprenticeships
as a way of improving productivity, improving quality of
work,” Franey said.

For Brandon Ruiz, Hutchinson’s facility administrator, the
greatest benefit is in the impact on the people who are being
positioned through RAPs to have successful careers.
“We’ve worked in an era where these guys didn’t have
these opportunities, and they were leaving with the $60 they
had in their books. And they’re back in a month because
they went out, after 10 years incarcerated, and they didn’t
have family to go to and they didn’t have any skillsets,” Ruiz
said. “I think [RAPs] just benefit them and benefit the community
as a whole. … It’s a great opportunity for anybody
that wants to jump on board.”

Private industry residents in the apprenticeship program work
full time on site, and complete related technical instruction (RTI)
after work or on the weekends on tablets provided by Viapath.
Apprentice Isaac Rodriguez is shown here.

Manufacturing Engineering | June/July 2023

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment

Start typing and press Enter to search