Robert McQuern: Free job training program showing results

By Robert McQuern

Guest columnist

In Indiana, many factors contribute to the widening gap between available talent and open jobs.

The low labor participation rate, which stood at 62.4% at the end of 2022 and had been declining since at least 2001, is perhaps the most alarming.

In its 2022 report “The State of Indiana’s Advanced Manufacturing Workforce,” Conexus Indiana documented multiple leaks in the talent pipeline that influence the job participation rate, from the loss of women in the workforce during the pandemic to troubling high school graduation rates.

But the leaks in that workforce pipeline can be fixed, and Conexus outlined several recommendations, one of which is to provide more job training for justice-involved adults and pathways to employment in Indiana’s advanced manufacturing industry.

The impact of job training programs has been proven effective not only in Conexus Indiana’s data but also in a January 2023 policy briefing published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Are Education Programs in Prison Worth It?”

According to the authors, this report is the largest meta-analysis of data on the effectiveness of justice-involved education on recidivism rates, job placement and salaries.

The results: Justice-involved individuals who participated in a prison education program were 14.8% less likely to return to prison, had a nearly 7% increase in job placement and had more earning potential than those who did not receive training. Importantly, the authors said vocational training programs have the best return for each dollar spent of all training programs studied, including college, vocational, secondary and adult basic education.

Those results align with what Conexus Indiana and the Indiana Department of Correction are witnessing and measuring with a unique job training program offered to adults throughout Indiana.

Catapult Indiana is a free job training program that combines classroom work with hands-on simulations to prepare Hoosiers for new careers in the advanced manufacturing industry, which employs 520,000 Hoosiers and accounts for 1 in 5 Indiana private jobs. With 10 locations around the state, Catapult has served hundreds of unemployed and underemployed adults as well as high school students with the hard and soft skills needed to for advanced manufacturing careers.

Since September 2019, nearly 300 adults in the Branchville Correctional Facility have participated in Catapult Indiana training. Data collected on the first 93 graduates show Catapult graduates are 3.48 times less likely to be sent back to the justice system than non-Catapult graduates. In fact, 33.8% of Indiana’s justice-involved adults reoffend after release and are sent back to prison. Only 9.7% of Catapult graduates are sent back to the justice system, saving taxpayers $411,088 in costs associated with incarceration.

Each year, according to the IDOC, 9,750 offenders are released from Indiana prisons with 33.8% of those offenders returning to prison. That percentage jumps to 60% when individuals remain unemployed. If companies worked to hire just a fraction of those individuals, it would be a significant step forward in plugging one leak in the talent pipeline.

Companies should look for community-based programs, like Catapult, that help align a company’s needs with second-chance Hoosiers trained with the right soft and hard skills. Conexus Indiana not only provides training but also has built relationships with companies that eagerly open their doors for and want to hire second-chance Hoosiers.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy authors concluded their study with several recommendations: Education and training programs in correctional facilities should be made available or expanded, the programs should be provided at no cost to prisoners and a mix of programs, from GED to vocational and college education.

Catapult Indiana is clearly one of many ways we can improve opportunities for justice-involved individuals, save taxpayer dollars and help plug one of the many leaks in the talent pipeline.

Robert McQuern, a 30-plus-year manufacturing industry veteran, is director of adult education at Conexus Indiana, spearheading the Catapult Indiana program for unemployed, underemployed and justice-involved Hoosiers as well as graduating high school students. Send comments to [email protected]