Certified Technical Skills that lead to professional or trade certifications can be earned by a person to assure their qualifications in performing a job or task. Certifications are portable, evidence-based credentials that measure essential workplace skills and are a reliable predictor of workplace success.
Many certification programs for incarcerated individuals are created, sponsored, or affiliated with the Department of Labor (DOL), professional associations, trade organizations, or private vendors interested in raising standards.
Certification programs can be relatively quick and simple, such as forklift training or long and complex, such as a DOL Apprenticeship or optical certification. Regardless of complexity, best practice certification programs require the same criteria. They should be:
Designed to prepare the incarcerated individual for an occupation or occupational area;
Knowledge-based; however, the credential should contain a performance based component;
Taught by someone with an industry certification or license, or certain number of years of experience in the field;
Standardized and graded or monitored independently by a subject matter expert;
Recognized by industry, trade, or professional associations
In a Correctional Industries (CI) environment, certification programs prepare incarcerated individuals to work in a specialized trade, both while incarcerated and upon release. Evidence has shown that including certifications on a resume can give formerly incarcerated individuals an advantage over other candidates applying for the same job.
Technical certification programs provide the incarcerated individual with the following:
Increased post-release employment opportunities
Validation of the attainment of job skills needed for employability
Reduction or elimination of employment barriers
Risk factors are identified as barriers to success when reintegrating into the community. Many incarcerated individuals face employment challenges that result from these risk factors. Certified training provides incarcerated individuals with job skills that align with the labor market and offer the incarcerated individual one less barrier to overcome upon release. Technical certifications have standards that are known industry-wide and employers expect that an incarcerated individual has mastered a specific skill level with the completion of a certified training program.
By offering certified technical programs, CIs provide incarcerated individuals with recognized and measured job skills that can be taken into the job market regardless of the geographic region.
Certified technical programs within CI provide a stable workforce, and maximizes industry operations through a well trained workforce. Most importantly, these programs can be tied to the tracking and documentation of recidivism rates and successes. Correctional Industries can provide data that can be easily understood by interested political, business, and community stakeholders.
1. Research labor market information
Research laws that prohibit felons from working in certain occupations. Consult with DOL to determine the current and projected skill and employment needs. DOL can provide current and relevant data to assist in deciding where certification programs will have the greatest impact. Conduct independent research with employers to determine the specific technical skills they are seeking. Consult employers in the geographic areas where incarcerated individuals will be released.
2. Research barriers to success
Collaborate with case management and educational services staff to determine barriers to success that should be addressed in certification programs. This collaboration may include topics such as professional communication, interviewing skills, and resume writing. Correctional Industries should utilize job readiness assessments to inform incarcerated individuals and instructors of areas for growth and improvement.
3. Research industry-wide technical training and certifications
There are many manufacturing programs that can be implemented throughout CI, such as quality or safety programs. Certified instructors from OSHA or other nationally recognized organizations can provide certified training courses to incarcerated individuals. Quality programs such as International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and Lean Manufacturing can be implemented.
4. Identify operations for technical training
Identify operations within your current CI that are suitable for technical skills certification. Research available trainings that offer certifications. Factors to consider when identifying training programs are:
Labor market needs
Correctional Industry needs
5. Identify resources
Review resources needed, including funding, equipment, space, and staffing. Identify staff that can provide certified skills training and/or provide tracking, monitoring, and documentation.
6. Pursue partnerships with certification program providers
Partnering organizations will often have published skill/technical curriculums, training and certification programs for instructors, and discounts on services. It is important for CIs to evaluate their partnerships with local, state and national program providers to determine the best matches.
U.S. or local DOL, other federal/state agencies such as OSHA, Department of Education.
There are numerous program providers throughout the United States that work with CIs. It is important going into a partnership to be able to clearly articulate what CIs needs are in order for the partner organization to determine if they have relevant training and services.
Universities, community colleges and technical schools.
Schools and universities are an excellent resource for classroom training and will often provide this training within the prison environment.
Trade and technical organizations.
Nationwide, there are many trade organizations willing to partner with CIs. They see the potential of building a trained workforce. Often, those organizations are seeking individuals who have specialized skill sets.
Seek partnerships with training counsels of both public and private labor unions to provide apprenticeship training. This first level apprenticeship provides incarcerated individuals with the highest priority level for union employment upon release. Partnerships may also include providing tools or discounted union dues upon release.
Vendors for technical equipment training.
Vendors offer training as part of equipment purchasing costs and raw material education. Incarcerated individuals can attend this training and receive certificates. Training webinars offered by vendors are another important resource.
Private industry partners.
The Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP) and service providers offer unique training opportunities for incarcerated individuals and often have certification programs already developed.
7. Obtain compliance verification
Compliance may be obtained through audits or assessments such as:
Workforce Development Assessments
Other assessments, i.e. DOL, higher education
In-house Certificates – Many CIs offer certificates of achievement or proficiency. These areas may include stock room clerk, janitor, painter, etc. Document the skills that must be achieved and the number of hours required to create an in-house certificate.
Hours of technical training provided
Incarcerated individuals enrolled in certified technical training
Incarcerated individuals securing employment within 90 days of release
Liptak, John J., Ed.D. Barriers to Employment Success Inventory (BESI). 5th Ed. Jist Publishing.
A self-paced computer program utilized to educate and aid in choosing between various occupations, jobs, and work potentially available. The Choices program provides the information necessary for the student to make informed decisions about their career and transition planning.
Job Readiness Assessments
The following is a list of available resources; this is not meant to be an endorsement of any one product. All products may be found online.
Job Search Knowledge Scale (JSKS), John J. Liptak, Ed.D*
JSKS helps determine how much an individual knows about looking for work to discover the job search skills they need to develop to find work faster. The JSKS offers guidance on the job search methods that work best and provides journaling space to establish job search goals.
The Job Search Attitude Inventory (JSAI), John J. Liptak, Ed.D.*
A 40-item inventory designed to make job seekers more aware of their self-directed and other-directed attitudes about their search for employment.
*This Triadic Job Search Model utilizes the three assessments to help all individuals understand all of the factors that contribute to job search and success, including attitudes toward the job search and knowledge of job searches.
Harrington-O’Shea Career Decision Maker System Revised (CDM-R), Arthur J. O’Shea, PhD, Rich Feller, PhD. Assesses occupational interests, values and abilities and matches these dimensions to career options.
Mechanism for Tracking Process/Progress
The DOL can be a partner in tracking the process and progress of the successful employment of incarcerated individuals, once they return to the community. If given the names and identification numbers of individuals, the DOL is able to track and report employment history once incarcerated individuals re-enter the job market.
Work Keys is a job skills assessment system that helps employers select, hire, train, develop, and retain a high-performance workforce. This series of tests measures foundational and soft skills and offers specialized assessments to target institutional needs.