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Wisconsin teaches inmates manufacturing skills (UPDATE)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Wisconsin has started a training program to teach prison inmates basic manufacturing and math skills.

The program is currently offered at Taycheedah Correctional Institution near Fond du Lac and state prisons in Oshkosh and Kettle Moraine, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Friday.

Inmates spend seven hours a day for six weeks learning the basics of quality control and safety, machine maintenance and repair, machine operation, computer controls and blueprint reading. They’re tested at the end of training.

“During the day, they get a break for lunch and that’s about it,” Rich Hoerth, a Lakeshore Technical College dean who oversees the program, told the newspaper. The school is collaborating on the program with the state Department of Corrections and the state Department of Workforce Development.

Inmates can earn college credits by finishing the program. Its lessons were developed based on manufacturers’ need for skilled labor, as employers nationwide said thousands of technically demanding manufacturing jobs cannot be filled because the skills gap is widening.

Wisconsin will have fewer than half of the metal manufacturing professionals it needs by 2021, according to a report from Manpower Group. Demand for skilled tradespeople will grow by nearly half while the number of workers will decrease about 12 percent due to retirements.

Jim Golembeski, executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board, told the newspaper that the program also teaches inmates math skills, including the ability to measure precisely.

The full program has been offered in Oshkosh, and the Taycheedah inmates are in their third week of training.

At the end of training, inmates have to pass a hands-on assessment – troubleshooting and repairing a machine in limited time. So far, all Oshkosh inmates have passed the test.

But it’s still too early to call the program a success, which will be based on whether people find manufacturing jobs after being released or continue their training at a technical college.

“Those six college credits are going to be helpful, too.” he added. “In some cases, these women will be the first in their immediate families to earn any college credits. We are hoping they will continue their education when they’re released.”

Taycheedah inmates can also learn other job skills, including those needed to become a dental technician, a position that pays about $40,000 a year in Milwaukee County.

Golembeski said those who have felony drug convictions could have difficulty finding jobs in the health care and financial fields, but he said manufacturing is an exception.

Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,

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