A few women are seated in enormous moving chairs with their feet on pedals and their hands on gear switches in a poorly lit, cramped trailer near Wilsonville. Although they control virtual bulldozers and excavators, this is not a video game. At Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, the only women’s prison in Oregon, they are receiving certification to handle heavy machinery while they are under guard.
Thanks to a $900,000 grant the Oregon Department of Corrections received through the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Second Chance Act, inmates across Oregon will have the opportunity to obtain job certifications and access resources to help them find employment, and employers will see more qualified candidates for in-demand jobs throughout the state.
Through the Baker Technical Institute, a for-profit organisation with locations in Eastern Oregon that provides career and technical education, the Oregon DOC will use the grant funds to deliver heavy equipment operating training to adults in custody.
The Baker Technical Institute also provides first aid and CPR instruction, as well as flagger and forklift certification, as part of the programme. Additionally, it offers all-encompassing services, including support with job searches and resumes writing.
Twelve Coffee Creek women are among the first to gain from the grant-funded programme through a five-week training. Over 100 people applied.
One of the women at the facility who just completed the training is Heidi Urban. She obtained her qualification as a heavy equipment operator on Friday.
During a visit to the prison this month, Urban told OPB that learning how to operate these devices was a fantastic opportunity.
When freed from Coffee Creek, Urban said she is eager to use the new abilities she has acquired.
I believe there are now open opportunities for positions like this, she remarked.
Numerous jobs requiring heavy equipment operation and other qualifications, which these individuals in detention are earning, are in great demand for the state, according to the Oregon Employment Department. That covers positions such as those of light truck drivers, factory employees, engineers, and other operators of different construction machinery.
OED data shows that almost 9,000 new jobs for labourers and freight stock employees were posted in the last year; these are occupations that call for some of the training the women being held at Coffee Creek are receiving. According to OED, there will be around 54,000 employment openings for stockers and order fillers in the state over the next ten years and other positions requiring those same talents.
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According to the OED, any position with more than 781 expected total openings during ten years is deemed “high-demand” in Oregon.
According to Brody Charpilloz, operations manager at Baker Technical Institute, the opportunities are endless.
You could do some residential work here, he suggested, or you could go build golf courses in Dubai. It is as huge as you want it to be, anyplace you want it to be.
Despite the stigma that often comes with being imprisoned, Charpilloz said he believes the women enrolled in the training programme at Coffee Creek will have little trouble finding employment once released.
They shouldn’t have any trouble finding employment, according to Charpilloz. There is a tonne of work to be done. If you desire it, you can have it.
Coffee Creek’s Superintendent, Nichole Brown, believes that the stigma associated with former inmates is fading for many employers.
They have been given beneficial therapy programming. They’ve had education opportunities,” Brown said of most of those detained in Oregon institutions. “Many of them hold advanced certifications, but more importantly, they have learnt how to form wholesome relationships while here. … I would say that you are more of a complement and an opportunity to society than a burden.
Ironworkers and electricians who contacted the site to inquire about its “viable workforce,” according to Brown, were connected with employers and industry experts in the past. She claimed that because it is the first time the training is being offered, she hasn’t spoken to any companies about the new virtual heavy equipment training.
In addition to the in-person training Coffee Creek already provides at its facilities, heavy virtual equipment operating instruction is available. Brown stated that the additional hands-on instruction is much appreciated.
According to Brown, Coffee Creek has a physical facility where adults in prison can participate in plumbing, welding, and other pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship activities.
However, she claimed that there are not enough options available at the institution for all of the detained women who wish to participate in them.
According to Brown, there was a waiting list for women who wanted to be a part of the training programme, and Coffee Creek personnel had to consider several variables when choosing candidates, such as how near they were to their release date and the women’s letters of interest. She stated that the facility was still working to improve the application procedure for upcoming sessions.
As Brown explained, “What we see with the heavy equipment programme is an opportunity for those women to come into this setting and learn on a different type of equipment that they wouldn’t have otherwise learned on” and be able to find employment in the future that will pay a living wage and allow them to take care of their families and children.
One of the Coffee Creek women, Urban, who just finished the course, expressed her hope that additional detainees will benefit from the initiative.
She added that she has over three years of experience working in Coffee Creek’s physical plant, where she gained knowledge of operating a scissor lift—a tool frequently used in warehousing and construction work—and her new training.
When she is released, Urban intends to pursue a profession in construction since she grew up watching her father and brother operate forklifts.
“I grew up believing that females can accomplish anything that boys can, and we can inspire even younger girls by showing them that we can achieve anything. This world is not just for men. It’s also a woman’s world,” Urban stated.
The Oregon Department of Corrections will use the $900,000 award over three years. According to DOC employees, the Baker Technical Institute will return to Coffee Creek for two further training sessions, reaching 36 women in jail. Over the three years, the awards will benefit more than 200 adults who are detained statewide.
Coffee Creek’s Brown expresses optimism that the initiative will be repeated in the future.
The following two facilities to participate in the training programme will be Snake River Correctional Institute and Powder River Correctional Facility, located in Ontario and Baker City, respectively, starting next month.
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