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Local program helps inmates learn tech skills so they can get a job after incarceration

Posted at 5:55 PM, Dec 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-10 19:22:34-05

MILWAUKEE — Finding a job after incarceration can be challenging, but a local organization is working to change that through a program where inmates get the chance to learn tech skills in great demand.

Benita Washington has spent months looking for a job, but in the process one thing has gotten in the way - a conviction for battery.

“I’ve gotten turned down by a lot of people, by a lot of great jobs,” Washington said. “I have a seven-year-old, trying to take care of her, losing my job, losing my place, so it's very frustrating having to start all over again.”

A judge sentenced her to probation in the spring, which she'll remain on for another year, though a job may be in her future sooner than she expected.

Washington enrolled in a special training class under UMOS’ federally-funded TechHire program.

It started about a year and a half ago through a partnership with Milwaukee Area Technical College, where inmates or those on probation like her can learn advanced manufacturing skills.

“I feel like it's a great opportunity,” Washington said.

The inmates go to MATC five days a week for six months, and by the end of the class they'll have skills that are in high demand.

Guillermo Diaz is one of the instructors.

“Giving them the skills to change their life is great you know, and it will be a trickle down as far as them and then their kids you know hopefully they can break out of that cycle,” Diaz said.

So far 27 people have gone through the program and were released from incarceration with internships or jobs waiting for them, paying about $22 an hour.

UMOS TechHire Director Joni Theobald said employers are eager to fill positions.

“There's definitely a bidding process happening within the employers themselves,” Theobald said.

UMOS also helps the students with challenges typically faced by former inmates in hopes to prevent them from going back to jail or prison.

“We try to look at what are the top barriers, housing, transportation, job,” Theobald said.

It’s support that's greatly appreciated by Washington who is now hopeful about her future.

“Just because you have something on your background whether it's a felony, misdemeanor, it's not over,” Washington said.