Prison to productivity:

Construction trades training provides
real preparation for a real future

Student Shatayia Payne is interviewed by KGO-TV's Karina Rusk

Posted March 9, 2012

As a single mother of two, Jamie Hoffman's chances of carving out a decent life in Silicon Valley for her struggling family on $8 an hour at the pizza place were not good to begin with.

Then her boss found out she had served time for a felony, and her chances instantly shrunk to zero.


Five weeks into an eight-week pre-apprenticeship training program that Working Partnerships offers with Roofers and Waterproofers Local 95 and partly funded through the Santa Clara County Office of Women's Policy, Hoffman's chances are the best they've ever been.

"Twenty to 30 dollars an hour," she mused about a possible career in construction. "That's doing business."

Launched as a pilot project two years ago by Working Partnerships in a unique partnership with building trades unions and work2future, Silicon Valley's Workforce Investment Board, the training prepares students -- primarily women and people of color -- to enter the trades, gives them a taste of work experience and leads directly to placement in jobs with a wages and benefits sufficient to support a family and a dream.

The program's placement rate is 70 percent, thanks to supportive construction firms. Child care is provided, and restaurants such as the Smoking Pig BBQ Company and Bluz By-you donate lunches.

The 2012 class of a dozen students, however, is the first targeted exclusively at Santa Clara County women who have served time.

"Six months is the longest I've been out since 2003," said 34-year-old Carrisa Barreto, a repeat offender who previously worked in telemarketing, sales and as a restaurant hostess. "But I've never been involved in anything like this."

Part of what makes this training different is that it covers more than the skills needed to build the Bay Bridge, the new Apple headquarters or high-speed rail.

Working Partnerships' Steve Preminger and Louise Auerhahn have worked with the class on money management, how to open a bank account and other basic survival skills in the world beyond prison walls. Other course topics include how to present yourself in an interview, effective communications and teamwork.

"We brought in a lawyer to teach them how to go about the process of getting the drivers' license back that they lost when they went to prison," said Dan Smith, roofers' union training director for Bay Area counties. "For these women, training is partly about how to show society you're worthy of something. But even more important, it's how to show yourself."

"It's not like we're treated like we're felons, even though we all are and they know it," Hoffman said. "There's a lot of respect here."

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