DOC/DLI event allows inmates to hone job-seeking skills, raises awareness among businesses of untapped labor pool

  • — May 05 2022

For many inmates at Montana State Prison, it has been years since they filled out a job application or sat down for an interview. Recently, 50 inmates at Montana State Prison had the opportunity to brush up on their job-seeking skills at the Montana State Prison/Montana Correctional Enterprises Inmate Job Fair hosted by the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Montana Department of Labor & Industry (DLI).

The joint venture included months of planning between Montana Correctional Enterprises (MCE), Montana State Prison (MSP), DOC Human Resources, and DLI's Job Services division.

"They (the inmates) were receptive to the feedback they got from the employers, and they appreciated the questions they were asked,” said MCE Administrator Gayle Butler. “It was very nerve-wracking for some of them to talk about their crime, but they did. The employers gave them feedback, and we talked about how, even if you're not getting out in the next year, you can build on these skills."

Inmates completed two mock interviews with business representatives during which they answered questions, reviewed their job application, and received feedback. While no jobs were offered, the goal of the fair was to provide awareness to employers of this untapped, trained workforce, and allow offenders an opportunity to meet employers and sharpen their interviewing and job-seeking skills.

Tanner Woodward, programs supervisor in the DLI Workforce Services Division, said this job fair was an opportunity to dovetail off the mission of DLI's workforce programs.

"The inmates are super excited," Woodward said. "They're like, 'This is a great opportunity. Thank you for setting this up for us. We don't get this chance to brush up on our skills.' They're having a blast with this. They said, 'Honestly, this is something that we needed and wanted.'"

Inmates from two different units participated in the event. Tobias Sims said being incarcerated gives inmates a new appreciation for what life was like before.

"So, giving us that chance again, I'm more committed and know what I want in life now," Sims said. "Given the chance, I won't let you down. I want everything in life. I want to get back to my family, and I want to be there for them and provide and have a future for myself."

Before the mock interviews, businesses were offered a tour of the MCE industries training programs. MCE provides a variety of education, training, and work programs to offenders at DOC-run facilities to teach skills that are in demand throughout various industries. An offender's ability to secure gainful employment upon their return to the community is critical in becoming a productive member of society.

Michelle Cohens, with Sletten Construction, was one business representative who volunteered her time as an interviewer.

"These inmates are working to be better people and to contribute to their community," she said. "They want to reenter the workforce. They've learned a lot, and they've gone through the different programs to become a better person. Most of them seem to have families, and they want to come and be able to provide for their families. So, getting on with a good employer is what their goal is. I think it's good as the employer for us to be involved and see how we can help make a difference."

Questions? Contact:

Alexandria Klapmeier 
DOC Public Information Officer
(406) 444-0333

Contact Sam Loveridge: Public Information Officer, Department of Labor and Industry
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