Technical colleges are stepping in to help train inmates looking for a career and a fresh start

By Erin Eagan

 

As the labor market tightens even further, Wisconsin employers are looking for new ways to fill job openings. One segment of our population employers are increasingly turning to is ex- criminal offenders, an unlikely talent pipeline that has proven to produce high-quality hires. In fact, research conducted by SHRM found nearly two-thirds of managers and HR professionals report the “quality of hire” for workers with criminal records is as good or better than that of those without records. 

Understandably, a small percentage of employers still remain apprehensive (14% of HR professionals surveyed won’t consider hiring those with a criminal record). Their concerns include legal liability, customer and employee reactions and regulations. However, the research shows that the completion of additional education or training after conviction would increase their willingness to hire from this population. 

Technical colleges have been stepping in to help rehabilitate inmates looking for a fresh start. Last year, Madison College’s Construction Essentials Certificate program teamed up with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to offer a 15-week training program. In June, 11 inmates graduated from this program, many of whom already had jobs lined up in the construction industry upon release.  

“Your past does not define your future,” Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch told the group of men at their graduation ceremony. Jeremy, one of the men she addressed, is grateful he was given the chance to redirect his life. “I think education is the key to a lot of things. When I came in, I was just 20 years old,” he said. “I was really misguided. I think programs like this really show guys what they're capable of and show them that there's so much more to life," Jeremy said.  

At Gateway Technical College, a group of inmates from a minimum security women’s prison in Racine County graduated last May from a six-month program where they spent countless hours training for in-demand computer-controlled machinery jobs. The program was made possible after the state Legislature voted last year to expand funding by $750,000 for vocational training across the state. Thanks to this opportunity, these women who would normally struggle to find employment now have skilled trade training that makes them productive members of society. 

You may find yourself in the apprehensive category when it comes to hiring ex-offenders. To help address the concerns of employers like you, the federal government offers the following incentives: 

  • Businesses who hire and retain “qualified ex-felons,” those who have been convicted of a felony and/or have been released from prison for the felony, may be eligible for a federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit of $1,200 to $9,600 per qualifying employee.  

  • The  Federal Bonding Program, sponsored by the government through the Department of Labor, offers an insurance policy that protects employers against any possible losses incurred due to actions by high-risk employees. These bonds are free of charge to both the applicant and the employer and can be issued for any job at any employer in any state. 

The population of Americans with criminal records is larger than ever. By taking advantage of the incentives and hiring someone with a criminal record who has been trained for careers in high-demand industries, you are tapping into a growing population and giving someone a second chance on life.