Construction pre-apprenticeship program is helping Fla. inmates start again

Graduates are connected with member companies and start working within five days after their release


By Breanna A. Rittman
The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla.
        
POLK CITY, Fla. — Sixteen men at Polk Correctional Institution graduated from iBuild Central Florida's construction pre-apprenticeship program. This was the third cohort held.

"The Florida Department of Corrections is proud to partner with iBuild to enhance educational and vocational opportunities for inmates at Polk CI," said Polk Correctional Institution Warden Amy Frizzell. "This program provides a pathway for inmates to develop the skills and knowledge needed to obtain gainful employment upon release. Preparing inmates for a smooth, productive re-entry into the community also enhances public safety and bolsters Florida's workforce."

Debbie Rodriguez is the founder and president of iBuild Central Florida. Rodriguez, who has 22 years in the construction industry, saw a need for more workers and decided to work to help fill it. The vision for iBuild began in October 2015 and became a nonprofit in December 2016.

The program is the first state-registered correctional construction pre-apprenticeship program in Florida.
The program is the first state-registered correctional construction pre-apprenticeship program in Florida. (Florida DOC)

"The men who go through this program have served their sentence and repaid their debt to society," said Rodriguez."Too often, they're stigmatized because of their past and get little help when they are released."

"This is a win-win," she added. "We are helping them define what success looks like and build a life they can be proud of, and they are helping us fill critically needed jobs in our industry with skilled labor."

For a student to be selected for the 420-hour program they are interviewed and selected by iBuild's instructor and the institution's officers. They must be in good standing with less than one year left in their sentence.

The program is the first state-registered correctional construction pre-apprenticeship program in Florida. Within the program the men earned their OSHA-10, First Aid/CPR, NCCER Core, and NCCER Heavy Equipment 1 certifications. Graduates are connected with one of iBuild's member companies and start working within five days after their release.

"We are an employer that believes in second chances," Rodriguez said. "Some of our industry is not so open-minded but they are open-minded to let us take the risk and they'll use them on their job sites."

Aiming to serve as an ally for the graduates as they grow in their construction career, iBuild provides graduates information about grants, further educational opportunities, and contact information for iBuild.

"We give these graduates our email and phone number to call or text us at iBuild. We want to serve as a resource for them upon release," said Tara Hagood, iBuild program coordinator. "This aligns perfectly with our goal to be a support to those who want to get into the construction industry, both as they're just starting out and as they pursue new certifications and licensure."

Todd Cook, 27, is a graduate of the second cohort of iBuild's program.

Cook was released on Sept. 6 and was able to quickly find work. Through the program Cook was able to receive the licensing he needed to operate as a self-contractor. Additionally, iBuild helped Cook get his driver's license reinstated.

"The skills I learned from them I was able to take on different job sites and apply them," Cook said. "I know without the program it probably would have been hard for me to get a job."

For more information about iBuild Central Florida visit iBuildCentralFlorida.com.

(c)2021 The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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