When ex-offenders are released from incarceration and have officially paid their debt to society, many go from “locked up” to “locked out” of any means for supporting themselves in society. If they have any kind of criminal record, their employment applications often are automatically flagged for rejection. Do they deserve a life sentence for their mistakes? A thriving partnership between Piedmont Technical College (PTC) and Greenwood Pathway House is helping at-risk individuals get a second chance at employment, housing, and independence.
The process begins when Greenwood Pathway House, which operates homeless shelters and related support programs for men and women, identifies and refers job-ready clients to PTC for a Ready to Work program to prepare and certify them for a number of jobs in manufacturing.
“Once somebody goes into this program, we generally know that from the day they graduate, within 7-10 days, almost all of them have a really good job,” said Anthony Price, executive director of Greenwood Pathway House. “All of them so far have gone straight into employment, except for one who received a scholarship to study mechatronics.”
The complete program comprises three phases, beginning with a three-week comprehensive workshop geared toward preparing participants for the modern workforce. The second phase allows participants to bridge their training into a Quick Skills certificate program at PTC. Quickskills certifications teach very specific, in-demand skill sets in as little as one semester.
“Those who continue to the third phase generally enroll in an associate degree program in machine tool technology or mechatronics technology,” said Rusty Denning, PTC associate vice president for economic development and continuing education. “These individuals qualify for up to $1,500 in scholarship funds to offset the cost of their tuition … Regardless of how far they ultimately go, program participants gain skills during each phase of the process.”
Price is excited about this partnership because of its ability to move participants into livable-wage jobs, most paying $15 per hour or more. At this level, it is possible to afford rent and utilities. “With all poverty situations, income is not always the main consideration that people have. It’s how to sustain their employment and income once they get it. Every time rent goes up $100, homelessness goes up 15 percent,” he said. “We are blessed to be in Greenwood, where the economy is so strong and opportunities are here.”
PTC Training Coordinator Trish Buis manages the program, which started about two years ago with “Ready to Work” grant funding from the state Workforce Development Board. The grant was structured for people facing serious hurdles to employment, such as having a criminal background or not having a high school diploma. An estimated 25 percent of Americans have a criminal record, according to research published by the Rand Corporation.
After the initial grant funding was exhausted, the program continued using a variety of alternative funding sources. Price also is constantly writing grant proposals to sustain the program.
“With this workshop, participants can get their MPT (Manufacturing Production Technician) certificate, which is a standalone certification,” Buis said. “If they don’t want to continue into a mechatronics degree program, they can still get a job. That is a huge plus.”
The Ready to Work workshop is available to anyone facing employment obstacles, not just Pathway clients. Over the past two years, 27 individuals have completed the workshop, with 23 receiving Forklift and OSHA 10 General Industry credentials and seven earning their MPT certificate. So far, eight Pathway clients have gone through the program, and four earned the MPT certificate.
Greenwood Pathway House screens and gradually prepares clients for the program, referring only those who have demonstrated readiness to take the next step. “I want to make sure that Piedmont Tech is getting people who are capable of completing the class. This is a huge blessing for our clients,” Price said, adding that client interest in the program is growing rapidly.
“Every time clients get into the program,” he said, “I can watch a ripple effect go through the whole ministry. People start getting serious and want to get into the program too.”
For more information about the Ready to Work program, visit www.ptc.edu/ready.