S.F. Bay Area philanthropist Matt Mochary sends ex-offenders to truck driving school

 

Matt MocharyThere are many ways that people become involved with helping formerly incarcerated individuals get back on their feet, but Matt Mochary’s story is rather unique. And what he does now – he sends people getting out of jail to truck driving school – proves, once again, that jobs are key to preventing recidivism.

After selling his company Totality Corp. to Verizon at the age of 31, Mochary had enough money to pursue other interests. What he decided to do was make movies. His first, Favela Rising, was shot in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The second, The Gloves, focused on heavyweight boxers who live and train in the South Bronx. Both of them opened his eyes to another existence of which he was previously unaware.

“When I was in Brazil making a documentary, I ended up spending a lot of time in the favelas. I realized there were no jobs there. The best job the people who live in the favelas could get was joining the drug gangs,” he says.

Mochary found the same thing to be true in the South Bronx. “I realized that if I had been born in that zip code I’d be a gang member as well as a gang leader. I had the thought that maybe convicted felons in the country are just doing what they have to do to eat. To survive,” he says.

He decided to test out his theory by working with an inmate being released from Riker’s Island, who had been incarcerated since the age of 14. “It was shockingly easy. I thought why wouldn’t I hire you. Because you look like a thug, talk like a thug and act like a thug. So I helped him look, act and dress like a kid who’d gone to an Ivy League college,” he says. (Mochary graduated from Yale University.)

After release, the guy got a job, but when they discovered his record the he was fired. And it happened several times. So Mochary decided that those leaving jail and prison need jobs where their record doesn’t matter. That would be construction work, truck driving or farm labor, and truck driving seemed to be the easiest of those to procure.

Shortage of qualified applicants for truck and bus driver job openings

According to Mochary’s research there are often shortages of qualified applicants for available truck and bus driver positions. And the pay can be pretty good – $20-$25 per hour to start. Driving public passenger buses usually pays more, though, and the benefits are often better. Therefore, in most cases, Mochary suggests training for and taking a passenger bus driving test.

Mochary now works through his Mochary Foundation, created to help previously incarcerated individuals find jobs and to train the brightest kids in the poorest neighborhoods to be computer programmers.

He began working with inmates at San Francisco County Jail nine months ago and has put eight people through truck driver training, all of whom are fully employed.

Most truck driving schools offer 10-week courses, but Mochary has found schools that can train people in a week. People can start studying for the California DMV commercial drivers written test while still incarcerated and then take the training when out.

Passing the test is not easy and requires many hours of study and taking practice tests, which are included in the materials Mochary provides. Even though it takes hard work and effort, those who are motivated and who put the required time in will have a pretty good chance of passing the test.

The total cost for each participant is about $2,250. The DMV test is $73, the medical exam $80, one week of truck driving school $2,000, and transportation to and from school for a week $100.

Willing to finance training for hundreds of people

Meanwhile, Mochary says he is willing to finance the training of “hundreds of people” but doesn’t want to handle the logistics of the inmates studying the test material and then committing to going to truck driving school.

“I need someone else to get excited about it. I wanted to prove to myself that it could work, and I’ve already done that. I’d like to find a national organization that already exists and have them adopt the program,” he says.

Until Mochary finds that organization he is willing to accept referrals of California jail inmates who are interested in participating, but they would need the support of someone inside the jail or a volunteer organization working there.

That person or organization could print out the study materials that Mochary provides and hand them to the inmate, administer practice exams when ready and then follow up to connect that person with Mochary, so he could sponsor the truck driving school training. The money transfer part can be handled through the service league at each jail.

Mochary has written a short guide on how to administer a California Driver’s Licensing Truck Driving Training Program in jail or prison. As part of a desire to help give “thousands and thousands” of people a second chance, he has generously offered to share his guide and handouts with jail contacts and/or organizations in California to support California referrals. He is also willing to share the information with out-of-state organizations that would like to replicate his program in their own state. Since laws can be different in different states the appropriate local state agencies should be consulted before launching a program.

Anyone who might be interested should contact Mochary at matt@mochary.com.

Things to consider before training to be a trucker

Although many people love the freedom of the road, being a long-haul trucker is not an easy life. It can be lonely and wreak havoc on families and relationships. (Although team driving as a couple may be able to help take care of the relationship problem.)

From our research we learned a few things to pass on:

  • Working for a smaller company can sometimes mean higher pay and an employer that may value its drivers more.
  • Be wary of being an independent contractor, as it can in many cases be a financial nightmare.
  • Depending on where you’d like to live, driving a public bus may be the best option. If not that, a truck driving job which allows you  to come home each day can be better for your personal life and health than being a long-haul truck driver.
  • Not being on the road for extended periods of time will also offer an opportunity to attend night school or other retraining programs in the evenings and on weekends. This is something to consider, since  self-driving trucks may eventually force truckers to consider other career options.

 

 

 

 

Humboldt County (Calif.) works with Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation on Humboldt Second Chance Program

Humboldt Second ChanceIn the far northern reaches of California, in a rural coastal area known for its redwood forests, local county officials are working with Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation to help formerly incarcerated individuals get jobs.

Taking advantage of a $400,000 grant from the state’s Workforce Development Board, Humboldt County has launched the Humboldt Second Chance Program (H2CP).

The Employment Training Division of the Humboldt County Department of Health & Human Services operates the program, and here’s how it works.

Set up as a series of seven-member cohorts, Humboldt Second Chance trains each cohort for specific types of jobs. Participants are referred from the probation office and after a screening and assessment go through a two-week training focusing on work readiness and expectations.

“We have a lot of younger folks now who may have never even worked. We’re trying to help them understand the rules of the game,” says Connie Lorenzo, employment training division program manager.

“Sometimes they don’t understand how to apply for a job or what’s expected in a job. We also get into time management and conflict management, as well as some of the things they might have issues with, like how to accept authority.”

Program includes two months of vocational training

The next step is vocational training, which lasts for two months. Participants work 25 hours per week, and their salaries are fully funded by the program. Most of the people are trained in construction, but some are doing office work, medical assisting and one has done horticultural training.

That’s as far as program participants have gotten so far, but one group is ready to move on.

“We have 13 people who will graduate out of the vocational training and work experience,” Lorenzo says “The next phase is to get them hired into a permanent position. We have staff willing to help with the job development and placing them, and we will pay 50 percent of their wage for the first four to six months.

Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation works with employers

Now that the Humboldt Second Chance Program has begun to train potential employees, what about the employers? And that’s where Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation comes in.

“The unique thing we did in Humboldt was because we only have 105,000 people and not a lot of industry, we had to recruit multiple employers to the program. We focused our grant not only on the ex-offenders but on employers as well,” says Lorenzo

In January her department held an employer event with a representative of Dave’s Killer Bread to educate employers on second chance employment.

It recruited 12 businesses that day and eight more since then. Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation will work directly with employers as a consultant offering one-on-one support to companies that want to hire people from the second chance program, according to Lorenzo.

“At the event we took the info we use in our summits and our work and showed them how it’s possible to make this (hiring previously incarcerated individuals) work,” says Genevieve Martin, executive director of the Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation. “It’s a great pipeline of candidates to look at.”

The foundation is now following up with those employers to see what kind of opportunities they have and to point them toward potential candidates.

This is the first time that DKB Foundation has done anything quite like this, but Martin hopes it won’t be the last.

“We’ve worked with other organizations before, but this is the first time we’ve partnered on a grant to deliver programs with strategic initiatives to the host organization,” Martin says. “Being able to partner with (an organization with) a more local approach is exciting, because that’s where we can make a difference.”

Plan to train 72 people

And Martin has her work cut out for her. Lorenzo says that the grant stated that they hope to train 72 people and get at least 45 of those employed full time. She says, however, they’re on target with between 40 and 50 people referred by probation thus far and is convinced they’ll succeed.

Although Lorenzo, in her position with Humboldt County, serves a lot of different types of clients, she’s especially impressed with those coming out of prison

“One thing I’ve found is that when ex-offenders are ready to transition their lives, they’re a very strong population to work with,” she says.

 

Brooklyn-based Refoundry trains ex-offenders to create home furnishings out of discarded materials

Refoundry

Refoundry participant Dexter Nurse; Refoundry entreprenuers Gene Manigo/Kambui, Custom Craft, and James L Eleby Jr., Eleby Designs. (Photo by Christina Maida.)

Although there are other programs that teach formerly incarcerated individuals entrepreneurial skills, Refoundry takes a slightly different approach. This Brooklyn-based not-for-profit has trained its pilot project participants to create home furnishings out of discarded materials and learn how to sell them.

Although they may have felt discarded by society, participants become confident that they, like the furniture they create, have value and purpose.

“Everybody’s got creativity, and working with our hands is one of the things that define us as human beings. Building things is in our DNA,” says Tommy Safian, the organization’s co-founder and executive director.

“When participants are giving discarded material new value they feel like they’re giving themselves new value as well. It’s very personal. When they send these things out into the world and people who may have formerly looked down on them purchase and bring them into their homes, it makes our participants feel valued.”

Formerly incarcerated individuals display incredible talent

“We’re providing opportunities. A lot of people coming out of prison have an incredible amount of talent,” he says. And Refoundry’s pilot project has taken five of those people, taught them woodworking and entrepreneurial skills.

It may be a not-for-profit, but Safian, who previously had a business collecting furniture from the trash in L.A., refurbishing and selling it, runs Refoundry like a business. He has high expectations of the participants and funnels the profits made from the furniture sold by them back into their training.

Safian doesn’t recruit participants straight out of prison but rather finds those who are already being served by reentry organizations and set up in programs, including the anger management and addiction counseling programs required by the state of New York.

“We’re looking for people who are ambitious, who understand their role, who are willing to learn and who take personal and professional responsibility,” he says.

For the first nine months participants learn how to create furniture from discarded materials and are taught the customer service and entrepreneurial skills needed to sell the pieces they create at the weekly Brooklyn Flea (flea market).

Once trained, participants may go out and start their own business, which four of those in the organization’s pilot project have already done.

Building community

Safian tells a story that exemplifies what Refoundry is trying to achieve. One participant who sold a table to a couple at the flea market had been in prison for 30 years for murder. When he delivered the piece, the customers invited him and his wife to dinner to christen the table.

“Our model is designed to make those types of connections and open up the space so that people can meet on common ground and recognize each other as individuals,” he says.

“In our program the transaction happens hand-to-hand and face-to-face. People have stereotypical and denigrating opinions of each other, but within the space of that transaction, they develop empathy, understanding and common values, and these develop community.”

Refoundry plans expansion

Refoundry now takes up a unit at the Brooklyn Navy Yard but plans to expand by adding more units and possible satellite locations. Safian also said that organizations in 12 states are interested in bringing the model to their communities.

The organization is currently establishing a campus at the Navy Yard, which is expected be ready by the end of the year. It will have wrap around services and a classroom. Columbia Business School will teach financial literacy, the School of Visual Arts will provide design and Pratt Institute will teach web design. Community partner Shake Shack will provide hospitality training and offer participants short-term “Internships” at one of its outlets.

Because he realizes that not everyone has the skills or desire to run their own business, Safian also plans to train people in bookkeeping and sales and marketing so that they can be placed in jobs in Refoundry’s partner organizations. These skills will also help those who launch their own enterprises.

Embrace your story

Whether Refoundry participants start their own business or work for someone else, however, Safian urges them to share their story.

“We encourage our participants to embrace their story and use that in marketing their pieces. There’s a huge amount of talent in New York, and what distinguishes them is the story that they tell,” he says

“Embracing your story with a narrative that’s positive for them and has meaning for others is what’s going to help those coming out of prison find a job.”

 

Jails to Jobs creates a new job search training toolkit for those who want to help ex-offenders find employment

Job Search Training ToolkitWorking with people about to leave prison or those in reentry who are trying to find jobs? Nonprofit Jails to Jobs, Inc. has a brand new resource to help you do that more effectively.

Its new Jails to Jobs: Job Search Training Toolkit is designed to give people who present job search workshops in jails and prisons, and job developers who work with previously incarcerated individuals the resource they need. And it’s all here and ready to go.

The kit includes 20 copies of an all-inclusive job search handbook, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, published by the organization. It also includes a 73-slide PowerPoint presentation, which was developed as the result of delivering workshops to more than 3,000 soon-to-be-released men and women and is based on the book. The presentation can be used to conduct a two- to three-hour workshop in one or multiple sittings, making it easier to schedule.

All presenters need to do is familiarize themselves with the material in the book, as well as the PowerPoint slides, and they’re ready to offer the workshop. Corresponding page numbers from the job search handbook are listed on slides making it easier for both presenter and participants to use slides along with the book. Optional slides can be added, or existing slides edited, to include local resources and other unique details furthering the value of the workshop.

Participants will receive a copy of the handbook that they can read and study further and use as a guide through the job search process to find and land a job and stay out of prison.

The PowerPoint presentation and the book offer advice, instructions and exercises to teach participants just about everything they need to do to conduct a job search.

Why order a job search training toolkit? Here are 25 reasons!
Putting the tools together

Workshop participants will learn how to:

  • Record an effective voice-mail message, standout and be remembered.
  • Create a unique card that may work better than a resume.
  • Prepare an elevator pitch, helping to make a very favorable first impression.
  • Put together a master application and resume, saving time and increasing productivity in their search.
  • Develop a targeted list of potential employers who they can contact and visit.
Once they begin their search

They’ll learn how to:

  • Use a proven technique, integrating the telephone and email for the best job search success results.
  • Find the person who has the power to extend a job offer.
  • Just walk into places of employment and know what to tell the hiring managers that will increase their chances of getting a job offer.
  • Create and use a circle of contacts chart to identify people who can help them in their job search including offering job leads.
  • Make their parole officer a part of their network.
  • Carry out an informational interview and gain inside knowledge.
Dealing effectively with their record

They’ll learn how to:

  • Create a convincing argument that hiring previously incarcerated individuals increases an employers’ talent pool and makes economic sense.
  • Encourage a job offer by knowing how and when to present hiring incentives that employers can take advantage of to benefit their bottom line.
  • Create a turnaround talk and package to convince employers that they have changed.
  • Highlight useful work skills developed in prison, helping to make the prison experience a strength rather than a negative.
  • Deal with their record on the job application form and increase the likelihood of being hired.
  • Understand and utilize two of the most effective job search methods that work for ex-offenders.
Resources and things they may not have thought of

They’ll learn how to:

  • Integrate volunteering into their efforts as a method to increase possible job leads and offers.
  • Use a temp employment agency as a stepping stone to full time regular work. Includes a list of 12 agencies we’ve heard good things about.
  • Employ unorthodox methods to get the attention of hiring managers.
  • Find free interview clothing and work attire.
  • Find free or low-cost tattoo removal programs to get visible anti-social or gang-related job stopping tattoos taken off.
  • Take advantage of job training and apprenticeship programs.
  • Implement 10 key tips from surveyed employers that will make ex-offenders more marketable.

The cost of the training toolkit is $395 and includes shipping within the continental United States. Additional copies of the book are available at a discounted rate of $12 each. We invite you to take a look at our book reviews on Amazon and email us with any questions and to place your order.

 

 

 

ApprenticeshipUSA grants to increase apprenticeship programs

ApprenticeshipUSAThose interested in apprenticeships may now have more opportunities than ever before, thanks to efforts by the U.S. Department of Labor to expand apprenticeship programs across the United States.

On October 21, the White House announced that the DOL has awarded more than $50 million in ApprenticeshipUSA State Expansion Grants. The applicants for these grants included state economic development and workforce agencies and technical college systems, among others.

The grants, ranging in amount from $700,000 to $2.7 million, are designed to:

  • Help states incorporate apprenticeships into their education and workforce systems.
  • Involve industry and other partners in expanding apprenticeships to new sectors and underserved worker populations.
  • Encourage and work with employers to create new programs.
  • Promote more diversity and inclusion in apprenticeship programs.

ApprenticeshipUSA State Expansion Grant recipients

Thirty-six agencies in states from Hawaii to New Hampshire received ApprenticeshipUSA State Expansion Grants to cover programs created with a variety of partners, plans and goals. Here are a few examples of the recipients and their plans for how they will use the grant money:

Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Juneau, Alaska

The department is using its $1,019,985 grant to fund the Healthy Alaska Through Apprenticeship project. This project will create healthcare apprenticeship opportunities that include jobs such as community healthcare worker and medical administrative assistant.

California Department of Industrial Relations, Oakland, California

The department was awarded an $1.8 million grant that will fund its Investing in California’s Future project. The goal is to double the number of registered apprenticeships during the next decade and encourage high-growth, non traditional industries – advanced manufacturing, transportation, information technology and healthcare – to develop apprenticeships.

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Tallahassee, Florida

The Florida ApprenticeshipUSA project, funded with a $1,498,269 grant, will create 2,500 new apprentices over 3-1/2 years. The public-private partnership will address the state’s critical demand for skilled and diverse workers in health services, construction, IT and manufacturing.

Iowa Workforce Development, Des Moines, Iowa

Using its $1.8 million grant, the Iowa Workforce Development agency has launched the Innovative Opportunities with Apprenticeships (IOWA) project. It plans to target underserved populations – ex-offenders, individuals with disabilities, minorities, women and out-of-school youth – who will be able to receive training in such nontraditional sectors as cyber security, IT, health care and business services.

Illinois Department of Commerce and Opportunity, Chicago, Illinois

With a $1.3 million grant to fund its Illinois Apprenticeship Plus System, the department plans to increase opportunities for women, people of color and individuals transitioning from incarceration, among others, in the transportation, manufacturing, healthcare and distribution, and logistics industries.

Indiana Department of Workforce Development, Indianapolis, Indiana

The department will work with partners that include the Indiana Department of Corrections, Ivy Tech Community College and representatives of industry to expand registered apprenticeships statewide with its $1.3 million grant.

Louisiana Workforce Commission, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The commission’s Expanding Opportunities Today to Meet Tomorrows Needs project received a $1.55 million grant. It will use the money to double the number of registered apprentices in the state, as well as develop pre-apprenticeship training programs.

Thousands of new apprenticeships on the horizon

With these and many other projects in the works, there will be thousands of new apprenticeships coming up in the next few years.

As a result, those looking for a stable, well paid career with paid training and who qualify should have an increasing number of opportunities. These opportunities will not only come in traditional industries like construction and transportation, but in work sectors, including IT and high-tech manufacturing, that haven’t employed many apprentices in the past.

 

Together We Bake cooks up recipe for reentry success

Together We Bake

Together We Bake participants create chocolate chip cookies to sell at Whole Foods, a farmers market and other places.

Alexandria, Va., nonprofit Together We Bake takes women who need a second chance and turns them into job ready candidates.

Its recipe: combine lessons in making chocolate chip cookies, granola and other goodies with experience doing inventory and making deliveries. Add a bit of confidence building and employment counseling. And provide ServSafe training, so participants graduate with a nationally recognized certification.

The program began in 2012 after former social worker Stephanie Wright and her running buddy, Tricia Sabatani, who previously worked with seniors and had a home-baked cookie business, discussed a variety of ventures and settled on Together We Bake.

Why they do what they do

“We wanted to help other people and started looking at our community, asking what was missing, what services were not being provided by the government or other organizations,” says Wright. “We quickly realized that job training was one of them.”

Over the past four years, the mostly previously incarcerated women have experienced an employment rate of 60% and even more impressive recidivism rate of just 6%.

Participants range in age from 22 to mid-60s, but the average age is about 40.

Together We Bake offers three classes each year, with 10 to 12 women in each class. The program takes place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. There are no strict requirements to participate.

“There’s no type of educational requirement, and a criminal background doesn’t matter,” says Wright. “We’re looking for them to make a commitment to the program and be wiling to do some hard work and some self work. They also must be willing to change their path and stay on a positive path.”

The way Together We Bake works

At the beginning of the day the women share something that’s empowering to them in a sort of confidence building exercise before the work begins. Participants work on teams. The business team does inventory, makes deliveries or whatever else is required at any particular time. When they deliver to Whole Foods, one of Together We Bake’s biggest accounts, the women get to stock the shelves and talk to the grocery manager.

The rest of the participants are in the kitchen on the baking team, the cleaning team and the prep team. After about two or three hours of work, the women participate in groups emphasizing empowerment, life skills, communications, goal setting and anger management.

The empowerment group is based on the Houses of Healing and Beyond Trauma curriculums.

“These are great resources that cover the subjects that we needed,” Wright says. “We’ve made it our own and picked the things that work for us. The woman who runs the empowerment groups is one of our graduates and has built some things into the program that she thinks are important from her own experiences being incarcerated.”

Together We Bake participants also take the National Restaurant Association Foundation’s ServSafe Food Safety Training Program, so they can be certified to do food service work.

Outside professionals conduct a two-session financial literacy group, in which the women learn budgeting and banking. They also pull their credit scores and practice making phone calls to creditors to explain their situation in order to boost their confidence so they will be able to rebuild their credit.

In addition, participants work with volunteers in the community selling the products they make at the local farmers market.

High completion rate 

The program’s completion rate is 83 percent, and when people drop out it’s for serious reasons, according to Wright.

“One of the participants got pregnant and was really sick. Another’s son got arrested, and she needed to stay home and take care of his child. We only terminated one person from the program because of issues and it was an attitude issue,” she says.

In addition to the training and education, Together We Bake participants are matched with local job counselor volunteers, who work one on one with the women to help them develop a resume, learn interviewing skills and practice completing online applications.

“It gives them extra support and helps them when they feel rejected because things don’t go their way,” Wright says.

 

Hot Chicken Takeover improves lives of those in reentry

Hot Chicken Takeover

Some of Hot Chicken Takeover’s team members.

You might not realize it when you dig into a plate of spicy chicken wings at Columbus, Ohio’s Hot Chicken Takeover (HCT), but this restaurant serves a side of social justice along with its popular cuisine. It’s just one more proof that a business can be successful while at the same time helping those leaving prison get their lives back together.

After tasting Nashville’s famous hot chicken and realizing that there was nothing like it in Columbus, founder Joe DeLoss and his wife Lisa began serving their own version out of their car in a parking lot on weekends. It became a hit, and soon the two found space indoors on the second floor of the city’s North Market, where they were able to serve customers on a more regular basis.

DeLoss took his experience as the founder of a sandwich catering business – a subsidiary of Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio that hired employees from homeless shelters – and applied it to his new restaurant.

Majority of staff members have been incarcerated

“Seventy percent of the staff is previously incarcerated,” says Cam Williams, the company’s director of operations. “Through media and referrals we attract people who may not have luck finding work elsewhere.”

Hot Chicken Takeover also receives referrals from organizations, including Kind Way, led by a former warden at three Ohio correctional institutions. She put together a group of business leaders who go into prisons and work with people while they’re still inside and provide a support system when they get out.

The staff of HCT operates the restaurant as well as a food truck that serves chicken at events and Columbus Crew professional soccer team games.

In addition to the food it serves and the community it creates through communal dining – the restaurant’s tables are all long and to be shared – HCT carries out a social mission to help formerly incarcerated individuals launch new lives upon release. As they say, “It’s about more than just chicken.”

“We provide financial, personal and professional growth opportunities,” says Williams. “We have a benefits coordinator who connects people with local resources, including Kemba Financial Credit Union, which helps them open a bank account for savings and has even been working with our staff who have been incarcerated for crimes including check fraud.”

Other employee benefits include a savings match program for people who are saving for things like transportation and education, with a 2-to-1 match of up to $700 per year. Employees are also offered an opportunity to meet twice a month with a financial coach to help them plan their financial future. Community partners help secure housing if they need it, because as a university town, it can be difficult to find affordable housing with good landlords in Columbus. And if necessary, there’s a licensed counselor to help with personal crises as they arise.

Although Hot Chicken Takeover provides its employees with an unusual level of services, Williams makes it clear that they’re running a business not a charity.

“We don’t see it as charitable,” he says. “The only thing we do that is charitable is give people a chance.”

Hot Chicken Takeover has high employee retention rate

And the effort pays off in dedicated employees. “We’re sitting at 60% retention. The industry standard is 100% to 150% turnover,” he says.

Although the company plans to operate another restaurant by the end of the year and is currently looking for a location, HCT has its sights set on something greater than selling chicken – hopefully starting a consulting business to help other companies do what it is doing.

“We’re not in this to be restauranteurs,” says Williams. “We’re passionate about expanding the human resources model that we have. We see it as a replicable system that other restaurants or warehouses could include in their business. We’re justifying what we do as being an economic solution not just doing something good. It’s a business that directly benefits from our social mission through retaining employees and not having to retrain them.”

 

Drive Change food truck biz trains formerly incarcerated youth

1

Drive Change members celebrate their selection for the People’s Choice Award and the Vendy Cup at the 2015 Vendy Awards, New York City’s highest honor for mobile vendors.

While the food business often serves up employment opportunities for those in reentry, Drive Change takes the idea one step further.

The New York City nonprofit’s Snow Day food truck sells an interesting menu of maple syrup-themed cuisine with a side of social justice, while at the same time helping formerly incarcerated young people get the training and work experience they so desperately need.

The organization was the inspiration of Jordyn Lexton, who taught at the public high school on New York City’s notorious Riker’s Island prison complex, in which 16-year-olds are considered adults.

“When I found myself on Riker’s Island I was completely blown away by how truly abusive the conditions are,” she says. “My students were leaving with felony convictions rather than juvenile adjudications. When leaving they were met by dead ends, and way too many of my students under different circumstances would have lived crime free.”

Post Riker release opportunities

While at Rikers, Lexton was thinking of business opportunities that could help young Rikers inmates after they’re released.

“There was a culinary arts class on Rikers, and it was one of the only classes where they were happy,” she says. “My own passion for eating, mixed with the realization that the food industry could provide employment and teaching, was where the idea came from.”

Food trucks seemed the best option for her business, because they can provide human connections and raise awareness of injustice inside the system better than restaurants can, she says.

So Lexton spent a year working on a taco truck and researched other food businesses on the side. By the spring of 2014, her organization was up and running and had launched Snowday, its first food truck. Snowday prepares cuisine using ingredients sourced from farms in New York City and beyond.

It caters events and posts its weekly schedule on Twitter. Drive Change also uses the truck as a tool to raise awareness about injustice within the prison system. On days when there’s a rally about reform at Rikers, for example, the organization seeks funding from donors to cover the cost of getting the truck to the event to serve food.

Funding for Drive Change

The money to buy Snowday came from a June 2013 fundraiser at an art gallery that raised about $45,000 from 300 attendees. Those who came promoted the indiegogo campaign that began the next day to their social media circles. That campaign raised another $24,000.

Lexton had built up a large network herself, thanks to her experience in the food truck industry and with criminal justice organizations. She reached out to them, as well as family and friends, to establish an individual giving platform and began to apply for foundation grants.

Snow Day began operations in April 2014, and Drive Change received its first two substantial foundation grants in the fall of 2014. These allowed it to build a kitchen training classroom originally located at the Center for Social Innovation but now in the historic former Pfizer building in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Employees must be between 16 and 25 years of age and treated as an adult in the criminal justice system. Referrals come from other organizations and reentry services. Drive Change received 66 referrals for eight open positions this past spring.

Applicants fill out an application, which Lexton says is a bit challenging and includes an essay. Of the 66 people who were originally referred only 30 completed the application.

Another requirement is that people have stable housing. “It can be a shelter or transitional housing, but knowing where someone is sleeping every night is important for employment,” Lexton says.

When people first hire on, they go through a five-week training period to receive food safety and New York Food Handlers certifications. During training, employees are paid minimum wage but upon graduation begin at $11 per hour.

During the next four to six months, Drive Change employees work in both the prep kitchen and on the truck. They also take classes in social media, marketing, hospitality, money management and small business development to prepare them for future employment or to create businesses of their own.

Although Drive Change is a nonprofit, it’s structured to own a profit LLC. The food truck is a third of its overall operating budget and is close to covering its own costs, according to Lexton.

Model for growth

The organization’s original goal was to operate a fleet of food trucks, but it has developed a different model for growth.

It plans to build a garage, a sort of food truck commissary, where other food truck operators can park their trucks, store goods, buy products and provide facilities for their employees to change clothes. Owners who park their trucks in the garage will be required to hire Drive Change employees. Lexton’s vision is to work with 120 people on 10 to 15 trucks.

And she doesn’t think that will be a problem for several reasons. The fact that New York City food trucks often have trouble finding a space for overnight parking is one of them.

“We’ve figured out by investing in this space, we can actually benefit the businesses of other food trucks in New York City. It will make their operations more efficient, lower their costs on goods and amenities and be good for their bottom line,” she says. ‘They also get the privilege of hiring these young people. It’s very hard for food trucks to find licensed and credentialed employees.”

What Drive Change is doing must be working. On Sept. 12 it won two Vendy Awards, the Oscars of mobile vending for New York City. The organization was honored with the People’s Choice Award and the grand prize Vendy Cup.

“No other vendor in the 11 years of the award has been able to achieve that,” Lexton says.

 

New guide helps manufacturers create apprenticeship programs

ApprenticeshipProgramManualCoverU.S. Manufacturers are facing a serious shortage of skilled workers. Many applicants just don’t seem to have the skills necessary to produce the increasingly sophisticated products that American factories are creating.

While some companies are teaming up with community colleges and other partners to create training and apprenticeship programs, there seems to be far too few of them

Three major corporations – Dow, Alcoa and Siemens – have decided to help solve the problem by joining forces to create a coalition to build regional apprenticeship models that bring together employers and community colleges.

And together with The Manufacturing Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, they’ve also published the Employer’s Playbook for Building an Apprenticeship Program to teach other companies how to do it themselves.

This 115-page book serves as a how-to guide that companies of any size can use to help build a workforce-ready talent pipeline in communities across the country.

Readers are taken step by step through the process of establishing an apprenticeship program. The nine chapters cover everything from workforce planning and establishing public-private partnerships to selecting apprenticeship program participants and transitioning apprentices into permanent employment.

The book includes an extensive array of templates, tools, project plans and worksheets and tons of tips and advice that are useful to any company that might be interested in creating an apprenticeship program of their own. There are also links to a wide range of other resources that include everything from the Department of Labor and the National Governor’s Association to the National Association of Workforce Boards.

The playbook will also serve as an important resource for manufacturers and their partners who are interested in the U.S. Department of Labor’s American Apprenticeship Grants competition that is now open for applications.

These grants – up to $100 million in total – will be given to public-private partnerships that will include a combination of manufacturers as well as community colleges, nonprofits, unions and training organizations. The grants are being financed by the fees that employers pay to hire foreign workers to come work in the U.S. under the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program.

The goals of the grant competition are to:

  • Expand apprenticeship programs into high growth industries and occupations, especially those for which foreign workers on H-1B visas are hired.
  • Use apprenticeships to create new career pathways.
  • Offer more apprenticeship opportunities to job seekers and workers, especially those from groups that are underrepresented in traditional apprenticeship programs.

And with all the new training programs that will result from these grants, more Americans – including hopefully some who were formerly incarcerated – will be claiming some of those jobs currently being held by H-1B workers. At least that appears to be the goal.

 

Maritime industry offers opportunities to ex-offenders

The welding program at Seattle's Harbor Island Training Center is a joint venture between Vigor Industrial and South Seattle Community College.

The welding program at Seattle’s Harbor Island Training Center is a joint venture between Vigor Industrial and South Seattle Community College.

Formerly incarcerated job seekers may want to check out jobs in the maritime trades, and a new maritime painting class in the San Francisco Bay Area is just one example of some of the opportunities that exist.

A joint venture between the College of Alameda and Bay Ship & Yacht, the program is seeking out those on probation, formerly homeless individuals and veterans to fill the first four-week class, which will take place in September. And those who do well may have a job offer at the end.

“This is a pilot class, and ideally we want to offer it on a regular basis,” said Chris Rochette, who helped develop the program and serves as training manager at Bay Ship & Yacht Co., a full service shipyard. “We want this to coincide with our hiring cycle, so we would offer one class in the winter and one in the fall.”

There is no prerequisite to apply. “They’re supposed to go from zero experience to us hiring them,” he said. Alameda College instructors will teach most of the classes, and Bay Ship & Yacht employees will assist in the hands-on instruction.

“Those employees can get a good feel for the people in the class, and if they do well, the goal is for us to hire them. We are a second-chance employer, and this offers a really good opportunity for people to get back on their feet.”

The program is modeled after Seattle’s Harbor Island Training Center, which, like the Alameda program, is a joint venture between a shipbuilder, Vigor Industrial, and an educational institution, South Seattle Community College.

Harbor Island offers the two-quarter, 5-1/2-month Welding Intensive for Maritime & Manufacturing Environments program that is is taught onsite by industry professionals at Vigor’s shipyards.

“The purpose of this program is to keep this vital industry alive when many members of the workforce are aging out,” said Kevin Maloney director of communications for South Seattle College. “It gives students the marketable skills they need to earn a living wage.” The average salary for a graduate of the program is just over $45,000 per year.

Graduates have been hired by Vigor, but the skills they learn are applicable to jobs at any shipyard anywhere.

Vigor Industrial has a similar joint venture with Portland Community College, which opened its new Swan Island Trades Center last September. The welding classes are taught at the Vigor Industrial Welding Training Center at its Swan Island Ship Repair Yard.

East Coast programs

On the opposite end of the country, the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association sponsors a six-week Marine Trades Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program that teaches a variety of entry-level skills, including painting, varnishing, rigging, forklift operation and shrink wrapping. These skills prepare graduates to be hired by area yacht builders and others.

As part of the program, which is held twice a year, students participate in a six-day job shadow with a local employer in an area of work that they are interested in.

Participants, who must be Rhode Island residents, attend sessions at various places throughout the state, including venues in Newport, Bristol and Portsmouth. The program is free to students, and those who don’t miss any days will receive $100 per week in compensation.

The Marine Trades Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program is funded through the Governor’s Workforce Board Rhode Island and has a 90% job placement rate for its graduates.

Another opportunity to get involved in maritime trades is a series of apprenticeship programs offered by Tidewater Community College and local maritime businesses in Suffolk, Va. These provide training for such positions as dock master, rigger, ship fitter, welder, electrician and painter. Participants take classes at the college and can earn an associate degree, in addition to gaining employment in the maritime industry.

The apprenticeship section of the Tidewater Community College’s website includes a list of companies that sponsor the apprenticeship programs. They range from BAE Systems and CDI Marine to Norfolk Naval Shipyard and Newport News Shipbuilding.

If you are interested in considering employment in the maritime industries, learning more about the programs in this article may be a good place to begin your search.