To ease the re-entry process for formerly incarcerated citizens, Tallahassee Community College’s Workforce Development Division has partnered with the Florida Small Business Development Center at FAMU to provide entrepreneurial training at correctional facilities in Leon and surrounding counties.
Spearheading the training program is Kim Moore, Vice President of Workforce Innovation at TCC. Moore believes that this opportunity will significantly benefit incarcerated citizens by providing them with the resources and knowledge to be self-sufficient upon release.
“One thing that data supports is that whether someone lacks a high school diploma, GED or is a returning citizen, when they’re armed with education, they decrease the likelihood of ever returning to incarceration,” Moore said. “That’s why this program is just absolutely important.”
After securing a contract with the Florida Department of Corrections and connecting with Keith Bowers, Regional Director of the FSBDC at FAMU, the two organizations worked together to create an impactful training program that would cover the foundation and framework of running a business.
Bowers said that the importance of this training program is to expose incarcerated citizens to the employment opportunities they will have, whether it be working for someone else or themselves.
“Sometimes returning citizens have a hard time finding gainful employment because of their criminal record. We want to educate them on the elements of starting a business, so they have an option to work for themselves.” Bowers said. “If they have the skill set and a vetted business idea and they understand the resources they need to move forward in starting a business, we believe that starting a business would be a great alternative if they cannot find employment.”
According to Moore, institutions selected the individuals they wanted to participate in the program. The program focuses on individuals who are currently already in training and those who are 6 to 12 months from their release date to ensure that they will be able to apply the skills that they learn in the real-world environment. The training will also be specific to the trade skills the individual chooses to pursue.
Consultants guided the participants through the training, starting with the basics of “how to start a business” before covering the marketing section. Afterward, they went through “Accounting 101” and “The Lean Business Model Canvas” before learning how to implement their business.
FSBDC at FAMU Consultant Pamela Johnson, who held training in a facility in Jefferson County, said the participants were eager to learn and were serious about their assignments and participation.
“They were hungry, eager, very grateful, and loved the certificates of completion they received,” Johnson said. “When I handed them out, some came back and showed me that they had laminated them. I mean, they took it to heart. They were very diligent with their assignments and very grateful for the investment made in them and their future.”
Many of the participants wrote reviews for the training program. Their FSBDC at FAMU consultant expressed the impact the training was on their goals and how it will help them transition back into their communities once they are released.
One participant wrote, “This class has helped me in many ways. I’ve always been business-minded; I just never took steps to move forward. Mr. Bowers has brought enlightening information to my mind in the small business world. I believe with the proper planning, motivation, dedication, and discipline, and I’m on my way to bigger and better things. Mr. Bowers has provided a lot of information that is useful. I am 31-years-old, and I’m finishing up a 10-year sentence, and I will reach my goals.”
Another inmate wrote, “The FSBDC at FAMU class was very informative. It held my attention all week, and I look forward to coming to class every day. I am glad I had the opportunity to attend this class and, given a chance, would do so again. It was awesome.”
Johnson said some participants exposed their vulnerability, pointing out there they made mistakes and how they fixed them.
“They were very transparent about how they got to where they were, what they lost being there, and their plan to do things differently,” Johnson said. “I think that they were very appreciative, and I learned from listening to some of their business plans, and I was just amazed at some of the businesses they had already started and launched. Because they were coming from all over, it was just very Illuminating, their commitment to making things better for themselves and their families.”
Beyond the impact this training program has had on the incarcerated citizens, Moore also expressed its effects on the small business communities now that they will have access to potential employees with specialized trades.
“There is such a demand for the skilled trades that employers will welcome the fact that they now have respected employees that they can consider hiring,” Moore said. “The fact is that these individuals will already be trained, and they will already have their certifications. So, it puts them in a better place. Honestly, one of the top things that any business, whether small, medium, or large, is the people and the talent that they bring on. So, these individuals will have the opportunity to quickly clock in and find employers who will quickly see why they should hire them.”