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Driven to Succeed

When Amanda Conard’s parole agent approached her about a new job training program that prepares participants for careers in truck driving, it seemed like fate. She had considered jobs in the field before, and had looked into training options just a week earlier, so she didn’t hesitate to seize the opportunity. “Getting out there was an exciting idea,” Conard said. “This is our chance to get out and start doing things the right way.” She was one of the first to complete the Offender Success Truck Driving pilot program and land a job in the industry. The pilot began in 2016 as a partnership between the Michigan Department of Corrections, Michigan Works!, Pinnacle Truck Driver Training, Inc. and west Michigan trucking companies. It aims to give qualified parolees a shot at a new career in truck driving. Since then, a dozen parolees have completed the training and secured jobs with west Michigan trucking companies. The initiative has been well-received by participating employers and the goal is to eventually expand the program to the east side of the state, said Ryan Powell, workforce development specialist with the MDOC’s Prisoner Reentry Administration. The department is working with eight trucking companies committed to hiring parolees who successfully complete the training program, and has reached out to additional companies to gauge interest, Powell said. An employer recruiting event was also held at Pinnacle’s school in Cadillac in November to give interested companies more information about the program. Department staff and other program stakeholders have met quarterly to discuss the status of the effort and what changes could be made to make it even more successful, he said. For trucking company ALTL, Inc., the program has already shown its merits. “It’s been fantastic,” said Claren Lau, vice president of operations at ALTL. “We have an industry in need and a good group of resources coming through the corrections system who have paid their dues. This is an opportunity to give someone who made a mistake a second chance.” Trucking has been among industries experiencing a hiring boom, according to a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. It was projected to have 1,566 job openings annually for positions that could pay $16 to $23 an hour, according to the report. It is forecasted to see nearly 12 percent job growth through 2024. With plenty of jobs to fill, ALTL, Inc. looked to a largely untapped pool of potential candidates. In 2015, the company approached West Michigan Works! with an idea to train parolees for jobs in truck driving – giving them a steady career in a strong industry. After meeting with the MDOC and other stakeholders, the pilot program was established. Parolees are carefully selected by Field Operations Administration staff for participation in the program. Candidates must be successful on parole for at least six months, have no medical issues, no parole violations, clean drug and alcohol screens, and a valid driver’s license with no points. They also must be employed, complete all required parole classes, meet all federal commercial driver qualifications, show an understanding and commitment to being away from home for up to two weeks at a time and provide an explanation for why they want the opportunity to train for a career in truck driving. The month-long training takes place at Pinnacle’s school in Cadillac. While there, they first use a simulator to learn the basics of shifting and driving a truck in different conditions, such as winding, wet, hilly or snow-covered roads, said Tim Baker, vice president of operations at Pinnacle Truck Driver Training, Inc. Practice in the simulator transitions to practice in a real truck on school property, he said. Classroom instruction covers a range of topics including professionalism, staying healthy while on the road, and customer relations. Once participants complete training at the school, they will test for a Commercial Driver’s License then move on to train with the trucking company that hired them. “We want to be a positive influence in their lives,” Baker said. “They have an opportunity to come out and have a job.” A truck driving company must be committed to hiring the candidate once they complete training and pay for half the cost of the required schooling. The participant, who is required to be approved for a travel pass issued by the MDOC, pays for the other half of the training through payroll deduction once they begin working and must agree to work for the company for at least one year. Companies hiring participating parolees have vehicle tracking systems that allow them to locate their truck at any time, and companies have agreed to share that information, as well as travel itineraries, with MDOC staff if needed. Conard was hired by ALTL, Inc. in July and successfully discharged from parole in November. Now she’s building her career as a truck driver, putting up to 3,400 miles under her tires each week. “They keep us moving and that’s all we ask for,” Conard said. “It changes your lifestyle and it’s a big adjustment, but it’s an absolutely wonderful opportunity.” Participating parolees hired by ALTL have proven to be smart, loyal and reliable, Lau said. “Driving is a unique job. You want someone who can think on their feet and be independent,” Lau said. “We can offer them a career in an industry where they can earn a good living.” It has been a career that program participant Juan Martinez said changed his life. Martinez said he never considered work as a truck driver until he heard about the program, and he saw it as a chance to build a future. “I didn’t have a lot going on and I thought it was a good choice to take that opportunity,” Martinez said. “It can be hard to keep your head above the water and move forward, especially after coming out of prison.” Martinez participated in the program’s first training class and was hired full-time by ALTL in March 2016. It has allowed him to catch up on bills and get his own place to live. “It’s changed my life for the better,” Martinez said. “I went from working dead-end jobs to a career. It gave me the opportunity to take care of the things I needed to take care of, move forward and leave everything else behind me.”