By CHUCK QUIMBACH, WUWM-FM
RACINE, Wisconsin (AP) – Many employers in Wisconsin complain of a labor shortage, especially of skilled workers.
Could the soon-to-be-released men and women from correctional facilities help alleviate Wisconsin’s labor shortage? Two state agencies are partnering with colleges to provide technical training to some people behind bars who are about to return to the community.
One of the training sites is at Racine Juvenile Correctional Facility, where approximately 300 men, aged 18 to 24, are in state care. It is a medium security box, a few kilometers northwest of downtown Racine. For many young men, this is their first incarceration.
In the past few months, nine men have taken classes inside the correctional facility with Gateway Technical College instructor JD Jones, WUWM-FM reported.
Jones teaches a type of engineering called mechatronics. He explained to a group of visitors the kind of work his graduates will be able to do.
âA maintenance technician who repairs machines in an automation factory. All factories must switch to automation in order to survive, both economically, commercially, etc. These machines stop. When these machines stop, we are the ones who turn them back on, âJones said.
Jones spoke inside a specially designed truck trailer operated by Wisconsin Corrections called the Mechatronics Mobile Training Lab. There are work areas with computers, small motors and industrial control units with titles such as PLC, which stands for Programmable Logic Controllers.
A student from Milwaukee County, who we identify by first name, Marcell, presented his project.
âAnytime that blue light is on, the engine will run. But shutdown, I have an emergency stop switch, which is right now and is preventing it from working. So once I take it off the engine runs, âMarcell said.
Marcell also demonstrated how to run the engine in reverse, which could help with a problem in a factory. Marcell said he was taking the course because he wanted to improve.
âYou know, it’s free education, so I’m very grateful for it, and hey, it pays well,â Marcell said.
Salary can range from $ 20 to $ 25 an hour for new hires, possibly more during the current labor shortage.
Another student in the mechatronics lab, Lashawn Franklin of Racine, said he wanted to be part of an economic recovery somewhat delayed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
âIn the career that I am having, there will always have to be people working there. Not much is happening at the moment. So I’ll be happy to help you get everything back on track, âFranklin said.
Mechatronics graduates will also receive assistance in their job search ahead of next year’s exit date. The State Department of Workforce Development has opened a career center inside Racine Institution, one of several centers currently in Wisconsin prisons.
Some graduates may not have to wait long to be hired. During the tour, several employers joined the media and heads of state agencies. Jennifer Conner of Snap-On Tools in Milwaukee said her company is often looking for skilled workers.
âWe have mechanics on site for whom we are continuously recruiting. It’s a challenge, especially with a three-shift operation. So I’m starting to understand better what they’re teaching and learning, âConner said.
In conjunction with Workforce Development, the Department of Corrections now has five mobile training trailers in state prisons, adding four of them under the Evers administration. The rest of the labs teach welding, electronics, and computer numerical controls. The ministry said about 250 people graduated.
There are more than 20,000 people in state custody, but Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr said he was focusing on preparing as many people as possible to become job holders. productive and taxpayers on release from prison.
âYou know, we’re taking it day by day, and we’re looking at the long term, not just the short term, and we’ll keep moving forward,â Carr said.
Sharlen Moore of Urban Underground, a youth advocacy group from Milwaukee, was also on the tour. She said young offenders need more opportunities like the Racine Youth Offender Correctional Facility.
“We should really take advantage of the resources to make sure a person is incarcerated, that they have the tools they need to live a fulfilling and meaningful life when they go out,” Moore said.
Especially at a time when many companies are saying, ‘We’re hiring’.
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