Learning & Development

Oregon Women’s Prison Provides Virtual Heavy Equipment Training for Post-Incarceration Employment

Finding ways to employ ex-convicts is a win-win-win in a tight labor market. Employers are better able to staff their operations, ex-convicts are given the opportunity for meaningful employment and a livable wage, and society benefits from reduced dependence on government support and recidivism.

Unfortunately, it’s often quite difficult for ex-convicts to find good jobs after they’re released. For one, there’s often a stigma attached to the formerly incarcerated. Employers worry they could be unreliable, violent, or untrustworthy. Additionally, many convicts go to prison with limited education or job training, and prisons don’t always offer resources for developing skills for life after prison.

Breaking the Mold

Oregon’s only female prison is seeking to break that mold, however, with a high-tech training program. “In a dimly-lit, narrow trailer in Wilsonville, a handful of women sit in large moving chairs, with their hands on gear shifts and their feet on pedals,” writes Meerah Powell in an article for Oregon Public Broadcasting. “They’re operating virtual heavy equipment machines like bulldozers and excavators, but it’s not a video game. They’re getting certified to operate heavy machinery while in custody at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility — Oregon’s only women’s prison.”

Powell writes that convicts all over Oregon are getting the opportunity to earn job certifications and access to resources to help them find work after their release thanks to a $900,000 grant provided by the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Second Chance Act to the Oregon Department of Corrections.

Learning In-Demand Skills

Inmates are learning skills that are forecasted to be in high demand in the coming years. “According to data from [the Oregon Employment Department (OED)], in the past year, there were more than 9,000 new job postings for laborers and freight stock workers — positions that require some of the training the women in custody at Coffee Creek are learning,” says Powell. “Over the next 10 years, there will be about 54,000 job openings for stockers and order fillers in the state, other jobs that require those same skills, according to OED.”

While many employers have traditionally been wary of hiring the formerly incarcerated, ex-convicts represent a largely untapped labor source that could help fill a crucial gap in the current labor pool, which is why corrections officials in Oregon are leveraging these federal grants to help prepare their inmates to fill high-need roles after release.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.