Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $900,000)
Through the “Big Machines, Big Opportunities” project, the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) proposes developing a heavy-equipment training academy providing industry-recognized certifications as well as wraparound career preparation and placement services.
Using mobile classrooms driven to our institutions, we will provide up to 180 adults in custody (AICs) with the opportunity to earn industry-standard heavy-equipment operator certifications. The mobile platform consisting of a custom trailer equipped with virtual-reality simulators, an instructor station, and a computer lab was designed in partnership with industry partner CAT Simulators. The virtual-reality simulators include heavy highway construction-type machines such as dozers, loaders, graders, and excavators. We will augment the core certifications with other “stackable” skills such as occupational safety training and CPR, flagger, forklift, and other certifications, making program completers uniquely equipped to be the best-qualified candidate for open positions.
Working with our contractor and other agencies and stakeholders across the state, the academy will also provide wraparound services in preparing resumes, conducting mock interviews, seeking and applying for employment, making connections with potential employers, and even bringing potential employers into our facilities. We will also develop a process for working with potential employers on the Work Opportunity Tax Credits (WOTC) to further encourage hiring Big Machines, Big Opportunities graduates. Many highway and other construction jobs needing certified heavy-equipment operators are more open to hiring people with a criminal background, and we plan to work with our stakeholders–such as the Oregon Department of Transportation Office of Civil Rights–to support this program through job connections.
Using mobile classrooms in this manner will allow ODOC to significantly expand its vocational training opportunities in spite of the limited classroom space within its facilities. We anticipate completing 12 cohorts of 6 AICs per year at alternating institutions and project providing 180 AICs with the opportunity to participate in the heavy-equipment operator training academy over the 3-year grant period. This would be more than double ODOC’s current combined vocational training and college course enrollment (175 AICs). Training will take place in our women’s facility as well as six men’s facilities on the east side of the state; however, program participants will be releasing to counties across the state where certified heavy-equipment operators are in high demand and where our contractor and network of workforce boards and the Oregon Employment Department will be able to continue to provide job placement support services.