Eric Grove has some experience in industrial construction and maintenance. But for 3 1/2 years, he worked a “menial job” with limited wage construction pallets.
“I wasn’t using my skills, and the skills I had were rusty. My self-confidence wasn’t there to apply for a job,” Grove said.
That changed through her participation in Pathways to Education and Employment for Reentry, a new program at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo and the First Judicial District.
Grove, a 37-year-old Evansdale native, learned about the education and career services available to him after PEER Coordinator Belle Fleischhack visited the Junkman/Knoebel Center, where he has lived for nearly a year. The center is a transitional housing unit for people recovering from alcohol or drug addiction.
“Belle reached out and made it feel like something I was capable of doing,” he said of the program’s services, which focus on short-term training for jobs. in high demand. Grove ended up enrolling in a two-month advanced fabrication course run by the college. He received hands-on training in a TechWorks lab through IGNITE: Introduction to Advanced Manufacturing, completing the course Dec. 10.
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“When I finished the program, I really felt like I accomplished something,” he said. Interview opportunities quickly presented themselves at two companies.
“Going into the interviews for both places, I felt like I knew what I was talking about,” Grove said of her newfound confidence. “I had two job offers this week.”
Earlier this year, he started work as a forklift driver at Viking Pump. The new position has resulted in a significant improvement in compensation, benefits and work environment.
PEER assists those involved with Black Hawk County Corrections in a variety of ways, depending on their needs. Academic guidance, career exploration, job readiness and hands-on training, and resource referrals are available. Participants are at the Black Hawk County Jail, the Waterloo Residential Correctional Facility in the First Judicial District, or the Waterloo Women’s Center for Change, or are involved in the parole system and live in the community.
Since its launch in May, Fleischhack said the program has connected 59 people in prison, offering resume workshops as well as training to obtain forklift driver certification and a learner’s commercial vehicle license. . They can continue their training under the program after their release or enter the labor market.
“Overall, there are almost 90 or 100 people we have worked with so far,” she noted, both inside and outside prison. Twenty people registered or attended training programs. Participants receive services and training at no cost to them, through available grants and scholarships.
Like Grove, “a lot of individuals have jobs,” said Michelle Clark, career path navigator at Hawkeye. “We help them find sustainable employment, a job they want to do rather than a job they have to do.
Program organizers argue that PEER could have a significant impact on crime while developing a new pool of labor for business and industry in the Cedar Valley.
“You can cut recidivism in half, statistically,” said Chris Hannon, director of workforce training and community development at Hawkeye. According to a study by the Vera Institute of Justice, people in prison who participate in vocational training programs are 48% less likely to reoffend than those who do not.
“That’s why the First District is going to put our full support around this,” said Ken Kolthoff, Director of the First Judicial District. “Hawkeye Community College’s investment and interest in wanting to work with these people is just tremendous.”
“Ken and I have been working on it for about five years, and we were finally able to implement it in May,” Hannon said. They had the support of Hawkeye President Todd Holcomb as well as “the right people at the right time” to launch the program. “Everything fell into place at the right time.”
Now, program staff are working hard to publicize the services they offer.
Jesse Rousch, a prison diversion social worker, noted that “a good portion of our population” does not have a high school diploma or any post-secondary education. Yet, “for a large part of our population, they don’t realize that these opportunities exist and that they are eligible for them”.
In IGNITE, Grove went through manufacturing modules such as robotics, computer-aided design, hydraulics, pneumatics, programmable logic control, CNC machining, and electrical.
“You get a certificate for completing the program and then a math certificate,” he said. “Robotics and CNC were completely new to me.
“My current employer told me that taking this course was a factor that got me in,” Grove added. Driving a forklift is going well, “but after I finish my probation (at Viking), I plan to bid on a CNC or some type of machine.”
While there will be on-the-job training, he expects more Hawkeye career courses to be in his future. “I’m going to go back and do more with CNC, kind of to understand that better,” he said.
Fleischhack said not everyone who has participated in the program has yet found a job, like Grove. But a lot of people are in the pipeline. “We will serve over 120 people in the first year,” she noted.
For more information about PEER, call (319) 296-4296, ext. 3103, or email [email protected]