Pre-apprenticeship programs offer opportunities to ex-offenders

Students prepare for jobs and apprenticeships at Constructing Hope, a Portland, Ore., nonprofit organization.

An apprenticeship in the trades is one of the best ways to enter a well-paying career, but many ex-offenders find it difficult to figure out how to get into apprenticeship programs. It may not be easy, but it can be done with the help of a few organizations and initiatives around the country that were created to get people into apprenticeship programs.

While there are not as many of these programs as job developers and others working with ex-offenders would like there to be, a few examples will give an idea of how they work and the opportunities they provide.

Constructing Hope

Constructing Hope in Portland, Ore. offers pre-apprenticeship training for ex-offenders and people with low incomes, teaching them the skills they will need for work as carpenters, electricians, plumbers or laborers.

The organization conducts three nine-week classes per year, and the current class consists of 60 percent ex-offenders, lower than the usual 70 percent, according to Patricia Daniels, the organization’s executive director. Constructing Hope does outreach to area prisons and reentry programs to recruit students. It focuses on males, because a similar program operated by another organization, Oregon Tradeswomen, offers a seven-week, women-only pre-apprenticeship class.

Not only do students learn various skills, but they also learn how to enter an apprenticeship and such essential skills as being able to get to things on time. “Our class starts at 6:30 a.m. If you can’t get to class at 6:30, you won’t be able to get to work at 5:30,” says Daniels. If students miss more than two days of class, they have to start the program all over again.

Last year, 50 people graduated from the pre-apprenticeship training. Of these, 37 went directly into jobs, and the other 11 entered apprenticeship programs.

Cypress Mandela

Oakland, Calif.’s Cypress Mandela, named after a street that collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, was originally founded in 1993 to provide training and jobs for rebuilding damaged freeways.

Since then, some 2,500 people have been trained and placed into a variety of trades. About 150 students go through the nonprofit’s training programs each year, 20 percent of whom are women and 60 percent of whom are ex-offenders.

“We partner with faith-based organizations and work with Oakland’s Private Industry Council and probation department and (Oakland) district attorney (Nancy) O’Malley and also with San Francisco and Contra Costa County, (to recruit ex-offenders),” says Arthur Shanks, Cypress Mandela’s executive director.

The organization offers a variety of training programs, one of which began last year in collaboration with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Cypress Mandela conducts a nine-week lineman program and a six-week gas program. Once the students complete one of these, they’re placed into a job at PG&E.

Other Cypress Mandela training programs prepare students for apprenticeships. “If a student completes a 16-week program with us, they will go directly into the carpenter’s apprenticeship,” says Shanks, citing one example.

CEO Academy

New York-headquartered CEO, the Center for Employment Opportunities, a nonprofit offering ex-offenders job-readiness training, employment opportunities and placement services, operates CEO Academy, which prepares people for work in the trades. It offers two types of training – pre-placement training and post-placement trades training.

The pre-placement training graduates 375 people per year from its two-day to five-day programs that teach participants warehouse/forklift operation, OSHA rules, scaffolding training, computer literacy and sanitation.

The post-placement trades training in carpentry, plumbing and electrical skills enrolls about 80 participants each year and graduates 50. This training lasts eight months and takes place two evenings per week. After completion, participants receive hands-on training in their selected trade at Hostos Community College in the Bronx. Only 10 percent of the participants in both programs are women.

The students work together with the staff to determine the direction they will take. “The training staff evaluates each participant who has an interest in training and matches the participants with the right training opportunity,” says Alberto Gutierrez, the academy’s director of participant training.

“For training in the trades (carpentry, plumbing, electrical), interested participants must take a TABE (Test of Adult Basic Education) test and a trade assessment, and a final interview is conducted by the training director to set program and participation expectations for the prospective student.”

CEO has a unique approach to how it handles its program participation. All students are required to work at paid employment. Upon completion of the organization’s five-day Life Skills Training, participants are eligible to work on the CEO’s transitional job sites, where they do light maintenance work seven hours per day for minimum wage. They do that for up to four days a week and spend the day(s) not on the job site in the CEO office receiving job coaching.

“For our participants who are recently released from prison or jail, this puts them back to work immediately, which puts money in their pockets, covering public transportation, living expenses and the ability to purchase interview attire,” says Gutierrez. “This is also what parole wants to see of men and women coming back home.

CEO Academy also offers a six- to eight-week sanitation-training program in which participants are paid to work 40 to 60 hours per week for the nonprofit’s partner employer, Action Carting of Newark, N.J.

For more information about the nonprofits in this article, visit their websites at:



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