Southeast Missouri partnerships have created an apprenticeship program to train currently incarcerated people as Certified Horticultural Specialists.

In the "boot heel" of Missouri, the Southeast Missouri Workforce Development Board identified a need for agriculture/agri-business talent. The Division of Workforce Development's Agricultural Employment Services Outreach Specialist, Jeanne Lake, suggested Registered Apprenticeship as a solution and brought the right partners to the table to serve Southeast Missouri's agricultural employers and reentry population. With the help of the Missouri Registered Apprenticeship Program, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor Apprenticeship Representative, and the Mid-America Food Hub and Training Center, the Board forged a new talent pipeline by sponsoring new Horticultural Specialist and Farm Worker Registered Apprenticeships for individuals incarcerated at the nearby Southeast Correctional Facility. 

The Southeast Correctional Facility has eight acres of land that justice-involved individuals have farmed for years, donating food harvested to the local food bank as part of a restorative justice program. Through an initial meeting among all partners, it became clear that a few changes could make significant improvements to the project.

The correctional facility had provided farming experience but lacked structure that would improve job prospects after release. Creating the formal apprenticeships in partnership with a local farmer willing to provide work experience for apprentices provided an opportunity for individuals to earn an in-demand certification, demonstrable work skills, and an employer recommendation prior to release. Partnering with the Board helped with successful re-entry. Finally, food was being grown and delivered without input from the food bank. There were opportunities to reduce waste by growing crops that were more in-demand and had longer shelf lives.

Twelve individuals were selected for the apprenticeship pilot based on interest, good behavior, and proximity to release. They went through 12 weeks of training-half days in the classroom and the other half working on the facility's acreage. The MidAmerican Food Hub and Training Center provided the classroom training on organic farming techniques on site at the correctional facility in a mobile learning unit (a renovated race car trailer). At the end of the 12-week period, apprentices obtained work-release to continue their apprenticeships on a local farm. The apprenticeships require 280-432 classroom training hours plus 2,390-6,000 on-the-job training hours and lead to certification in either Horticultural Specialist or Farm Worker, depending on each apprentice's interest and mastery of skills. While incarcerated, apprentices earn $3/hour (with progressive wage increases) skilling up for jobs that will pay, when employed after release, at least $15/hour.

Jeanna Caldwell, Coordinator of the Missouri Registered Apprenticeship Program at the Department of Economic Development, stresses the importance of bringing partners together to identify opportunities, work through challenges, and "place the system on a successful path to have a sustainable apprenticeship program." She also identifies a few unique challenges, such as obtaining work releases; aligning the training schedule with growing times; and the logistics of housing and transporting guest trainers in a rural, isolated area. The partners are currently working to address policies that can be improved to streamline employment after release.


Source: Apprenticeship Connections Newsletter – August 2018

More information:        Jeanna Caldwell, Coordinator