Guest Column by
Secretary Ray Allen
Department of Workforce Development
Wisconsin employers are hiring and need additional skilled workers to maintain or expand their operations. And with only about 95,000 unemployed people in the state according to the most recent monthly data, we must find new sources of workers to train for the many family-supporting jobs currently available in Wisconsin.
That is why the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) is working with the Department of Corrections (DOC) to cultivate partnerships with state correctional facilities, delivering vocational training to inmates who are nearing release. Some initiatives include:
• Eleven inmates from the Robert Ellsworth Correctional Center in Racine County recently earned certificates in Computer-Numerical-Control (CNC) Machining after completing a training program offered through Gateway Technical College. Governor Walker joined representatives from DWD and DOC in honoring the graduates. Since 2015, 95% of inmates who have completed a vocational academy have found employment after release.
• Building on this success, DWD is providing additional funding to purchase two mobile training labs to make vocational training available to inmates at additional facilities.
• At Redgranite Correctional Institution, DWD is purchasing equipment for an industrial maintenance classroom, which will allow inmates to receive training in this high-demand career and are partnering with local businesses eager to hire graduates upon their release.
• DWD is partnering with Oakhill Correctional Institution to bring case management, career counseling, and other job services to the facility through an on-site Job Center. Scheduled to open this fall, DWD staff will be available at the job center for 20 hours per week.
• DWD’s Office of Veterans Employment Services staff regularly meet with incarcerated veterans who are expecting two to three months from release to deliver case management services, preparing them for the workforce, their job search and connecting them with local resources.
Moving forward, we intend to work with DOC to expand upon these initiatives, bringing job center services directly to inmates inside other state correctional facilities. Additionally, we will expand apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship opportunities for inmates, building on the successful model that has seen dozens of inmates quickly move from incarceration to rewarding careers as welders, CNC machinists, plastic injection molders, and CDL drivers. With an unemployment rate hovering at or below 3 percent for seven straight months, Wisconsin must not only attract new talent to the thousands of opportunities our state has to offer, but we must commit to helping all individuals, regardless of their background and barriers to employment, achieve the dignity that comes from an honest day’s work and from being a productive member of society.