At the end of last week, CareerSource Florida and Florida Department of Corrections highlighted the success of the Florida Helping Inmates Realize Employment Success (HIRES) program, a pre-release career pathway to employment for returning citizens including nearly 30 new commercial truck drivers.
“Ensuring Florida businesses are able to move their products through the supply chain is vital to Florida’s economy and a priority for Governor Ron DeSantis,” said Michelle Dennard, the president and CEO of CareerSource Florida. “The Florida HIRES CDL training program is creating a pipeline of talent to keep the supply chain moving and providing in-demand skills to individuals in the justice system that will help them provide for themselves and their families upon release.”
“Most inmates in our custody will one day be released, and while they are in our custody there is a tremendous benefit for inmates, staff, and communities when good vocational learning opportunities are made available. We are pleased this program has continued down a path of success,” said Sec. Ricky Dixon of the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC). “It is positive for inmates and their families, and for employers who need qualified individuals to step into these in-demand roles.”
Florida HIRES, powered by the state-sponsored Florida Ready to Work program, has provided pre-release career readiness training to 350 incarcerated individuals since August 2019. Occupations include commercial truck driving, construction, heavy equipment operation, electrical work, advanced manufacturing, warehousing and logistics, and customer service/hospitality. In addition to in-demand technical skills training, participants receive intensive employability skills training and earn the Florida Soft Skills Credential, a stackable credential validating mastery of the communication, professionalism, teamwork, critical thinking and problem-solving skills most needed by Florida employers.
The Florida HIRES CDL program is provided in partnership with CareerSource Central Florida, CareerSource Polk and FleetForce, a Florida-based licensed and certified truck driving school.
“Teaming up with Florida HIRES has enabled us to train new drivers who are eager to learn, gain a new set of skills and ultimately help our state solve a truck driver shortage. There is nothing more rewarding than doing something you love while also making a positive impact on the lives of other individuals,” said Tra Williams, the president of Fleet Force Trucking. “Being part of the solution means businesses can continue to do what they need to get products to Florida consumers.”
Florida HIRES introduced this first-of-its-kind commercial driver’s license (CDL B) training and enhanced employability program at the FDC Kissimmee Community Release Center in 2021. Participants are generally 60-180 days from full release and are among select inmates who are eligible for paid employment in the community while completing their sentence. To date, nearly 30 individuals have completed the Florida HIRES CDL program including Thomas Cramer.
“For more than 20 years I reflected on my future and what I would be able to do as a returning citizen and could not be more grateful for the opportunity that was given to me by the Florida Department of Corrections and Florida HIRES to start again,” said Thomas Cramer, Florida HIRES graduate. “This program allowed me to believe in myself and convinced me that I could succeed. I now have a full-time job and I am committed to mentoring other individuals to show them that they can succeed if they put their minds to it.”
During fiscal year 2021-2022, the Florida Legislature authorized, and Gov. Ron DeSantis approved, $1 million in general revenue funding for continued development, implementation and project management of Florida HIRES.
Those who complete the Florida HIRES CDL program earn a ‘Class B’ commercial driver license, allowing operation of commercial box trucks, concrete mixers and sanitation vehicles. In 2020, the average wage for Class B commercial drivers was $20 per hour or $41,600 per year. While there is no guarantee of employment, 100 percent of Florida HIRES CDL graduates have received job offers while incarcerated and completing their sentence.
One of the businesses that has benefited from Florida HIRES’ CDL program is Argos-US. With many drivers close to retirement and ongoing recruiting challenges, they turned to Florida HIRES.
“We were looking for new drivers who are willing to stay and learn more about our company so that we can grow together,” said Argos-US Florida Regional Human Resources Manager Monique Wallace. “But like many companies, we were facing workforce shortages until we learned about this CDL program. To date, we have hired eight candidates and could not be more pleased.”
There are 71 participants enrolled in Florida HIRES and the program is being implemented or in development at six FDC institutions:
Baker Re-Entry Center, Sanderson
Gadsden Re-Entry Center, Havana
Kissimmee Community Release Center
Lowell Correctional Institution, Ocala
Polk Re-Entry Correctional Institution, Polk City
St. Petersburg Community Release Center
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