Using Apprenticeship to Create Pathways from Prison to the Workplace | Maher & Maher
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Using Apprenticeship to Create Pathways from Prison to the Workplace

Apprenticeship is a workforce solution that transcends industry and demographic population. For many incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals, obstacles such as lower levels of educational attainment, lack of experience, a criminal record, and extended periods of unemployment make re-entering the workforce challenging. The basic components of apprenticeship offer incarcerated individuals the opportunity to overcome these obstacles – on-the-job training that provides work experience, education that provides job-related instruction, and a nationally-recognized credential that shows employers they can do the job. That’s important, because in addition to providing these individuals a pathway to work, apprenticeship offers societal benefits like reductions in recidivism and lower unemployment, which means, among other things, lower costs to the taxpayers.

The State of Iowa is embracing apprenticeship to upskill its workforce, including those who have been incarcerated. As a recipient of a U.S. Department of Labor State Apprenticeship Expansion grant, Iowa Workforce Development partnered with the Iowa Department of Corrections (IDOC), using seed money to build and diversify the pipeline of apprentices among the corrections population. Since the program’s inception in 2014, more than 70 incarcerated or formerly incarcerated individuals have successfully completed apprenticeship programs within Iowa’s corrections facilities.

Apprentices are employed by Iowa Prison Industries or IDOC in areas such as textiles, signage, furniture making and restoration, and braille translation. Apprentices access related instruction in the correctional facility through self-paced study and distance learning, and local community colleges provide tutoring and administer and score exams. After successful completion of the program, apprentices earn their apprenticeship certificate of completion. Those in the electrician, HVAC, plumbing, refrigeration, air conditioning, and heating programs can also take the state licensing exam to receive their license before they are released. 

Transition is essential for success. IDOC helps individuals who have completed their apprenticeship to find work upon release, and those who have not completed their apprenticeship to transition to another registered apprenticeship program with advanced standing.

With a growing interest in apprenticeship programs for incarcerated individuals and those transitioning from prison, Iowa has the following words of advice to other states:

  • Work Closely with Employers to Address Misconceptions and Fears about the Population. Bringing employers onto the prison job site to meet apprentices, speak with supervisors, and observe the training has proven effective at overcoming misperceptions and fears.
  • Let Business Need Drive Selection of Apprenticeship Occupations. Like any apprenticeship, programs for incarcerated individuals must be business-driven. Start with a pilot program in one prison, selecting a few occupations in high demand based on a review of labor market projections and conversations with area employers.
  • Build on Existing Successes. Iowa Workforce Development partnered with IDOC because it had already laid the groundwork and possessed the experience and buy-in to expand apprenticeship opportunities. You must have partners involved to reach different populations and different employers.

To share Iowa’s success with other states, Maher & Maher developed a case study as part of our work with the U.S. Department of Labor to provide technical assistance to State Apprenticeship Expansion grantees. To read Iowa’s case study and view other grantee promising practices, visit the SAE Grantee Promising Practices page on the Apprenticeship Community of Practice.

Maher & Maher is a specialized change management and talent development consulting firm based in New Jersey and Washington, D.C. The firm is U.S. Department of Labor’s national technical assistance provider supporting the Employment and Training Administration’s implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and a number of other priority initiatives of the administration that advance and promote the public workforce system. Maher is also currently involved in a number of sector strategy, regional planning, organizational strategic planning and training initiatives in multiple state and regional areas. For more information about our services, visit our website or call us at 1-888-90-Maher.

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