A total of 24 offenders at the Floyd County Prison have completed training provided by Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) and the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) and are now certified in Shielded Metal Arc and Flux Core Welding.
A special commencement ceremony was hosted by Floyd County Prison Warden Mike Long and Georgia Northwestern at the prison on Friday, June 18, to recognize the second cohort of offenders who have become certified in the two welding processes needed for an entry-level welding position. The graduates received a Certificate of Completion from GNTC, as well as up to two weld test certifications from the American Welding Society. Special guests of the ceremony included Laura Boalch, TCSG chief of staff; Karen Kirchler, senior executive director for Economic Development and interim deputy commissioner of Workforce Development for the TCSG; and Lesia Lambert, Northwest Georgia Regional Commission (NWGRC) director of Workforce Development.
During the ceremony, GNTC President Dr. Heidi Popham introduced GNTC’s Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) Initiative. As a part of this new initiative, offenders that have successfully completed the 135-hour program in welding, and passed the AWS weld test certifications, can be exempt from a college credit course if they choose to apply at GNTC and meet admissions requirements.
“This initiative is a first of its kind at GNTC that bridges non-credit and credit training,” said Popham. “These prior learning credits you have earned may be applied to GNTC’s Basic Shielded Metal Arc Welder Technical Certificate of Credit or the Gas Metal Arc Welder Technical Certificate of Credit. We welcome you to continue your education with us.”
After Popham presented the graduates with their certificates, several of the offenders shared their insights on the program during the ceremony.
“Today is a day we get to celebrate our success,” said Rodney Flournoy. “We have become better brothers, sons and fathers by taking part in this program.”
“This is a life changing moment,” Ernest Harris added. “I have a family to go back to and this is going to change their lives too.”
“I did this so I could show others they can do it to,” Demetrick Davis told the audience which included representatives from TCSG, Georgia Northwestern, NWGRC and Floyd County Prison. “I won’t let you all down. I promise.”
The 12-week training has a 100% completion rate between both cohorts with the first finishing in September 2020.
“A program having a 100% completion rate is a huge deal,” TCSG Welding Instructor Scott Edison told the graduates. “This is a gift that has been given to you. It is time to take your knowledge and go get some experience.”
Kyle Edmunds, a trainee in the second cohort, is already employed and gaining experience while still incarcerated. Edmunds is currently in the prison’s Work Release Center, a transition program that allows offenders to leave the prison for work and return when their shift is complete.
According to Betty Bailey-Dean, deputy warden of care and treatment at Floyd County Corrections, Edmunds and other offenders can keep their jobs once released. Dean oversees the Work Release Center and hand-picked the offenders who would participate in the program. During the commencement ceremony, the deputy warden reminded the graduates that being chosen for the welding training program is a high honor.
“You are leading the way for the next cohort if it gets approved,” Dean said. “Everyone involved with this program wants you to become better citizens all the way around. I am so proud that each one of you wants that for yourselves.”
Stephanie Scearce, GNTC vice president of Economic Development, is thrilled with the success of both cohorts. Scearce and her Economic Development team along with GNTC’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program spent over a year developing the welding curriculum and securing the funding for the program.
“It felt a little easier to get the second cohort up and running because we had performance metrics from our first group,” she said. “I tell the prisoners that the effort they put in is a determining factor if GNTC will be able to bring the program back again. If we get the grants approved we will try to offer this program as many times as we can.”
Scearce added that trainees in the second cohort kept asking if the training hours invested in the program would transfer to the Welding and Joining Technology program at GNTC, which is what led to developing the Prior Learning Assessment Initiative.
“We want them to know their hard work was worth it,” Scearce said. “For now, GNTC is only offering this initiative to the 24 students who completed the 135-hour training created by GNTC’s Office of Economic Development. We are wanting to expand to other programs so we can bridge non-credit training programs with select technical certificates of credit offered through Academic Affairs to grant credit course exemptions.”
In the meantime, the offenders are finding meaningful employment through the Work Release Center. Currently, Steel King Industries, Inc., F&P Georgia, Jefferson Southern Corporation, Thermal Seal Duct, Mat HD, LLC and Advanced Steel Technology are partnering with Floyd County Corrections to hire certified welders.
According to the Georgia Department of Labor, the average hourly pay for welders in northwest Georgia is $17.45 as of 2019. The industry is also seeing growth as a result of retirements. The American Welding Society estimates half a million welding jobs will be available nationwide by 2022. Offenders with welding jobs through the Work Release Center are making an average of $11.60 an hour.
The welding program at Floyd County Prison was made possible through partnerships at both the state and local level, Scearce said. Brandi Dover, GNTC WIOA program coordinator, said her department coordinated with GNTC’s Economic Development office and with Lesia Lambert, director of Workforce Development at NWGRC, to fund the project. The WIOA office handled the applications and paperwork of the offenders who wanted to be a part of the program. In addition, GNTC also applied to secure a TCSG mobile welding lab. Now that the class is complete, the lab will return to TCSG.
Georgia Northwestern Technical College provides quality workforce education to the citizens of northwest Georgia. Students have the opportunity to earn an associate degree, diploma or a certificate in business, health, industrial or public service career paths. This past year, 11,820 people benefited from GNTC’s credit and noncredit programs. GNTC has an annual credit enrollment of 8,591 students and an additional enrollment of 3,229 people through adult education, continuing education, business and industry training and Georgia Quick Start. For more information about GNTC, visit us at www.GNTC.edu. GNTC is a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia and an Equal Opportunity Institution.