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Legal Services, Re-Entry Program Provide a Lifeline For Potential Employees
By Sara Mackey, Marketing Communications Specialist
Statewide Marketing Consortium of the Wisconsin Technical College System

Some disadvantaged adults without an educational or career focus face tough decisions once they complete their postsecondary studies, if they get that far. For many without strong guidance and support, their options (or lack of) lead them to make unfavorable choices trying to manage day-to-day. While many of the technical colleges have similar programs, Western and meaningful life.

Matthew Kjos, a Human Services student at Western said, “It means that I have a chance to take my life experiences up to this point, the good, the bad, the ugly, and turn it into something positive, for me, my family, my daughters and for the community. “
Unless they are either very highly motivated or have someone really invested in their success, a cycle of recidivism (recurring offenses) begins once these adults run into trouble with the law, and that is especially difficult to break without a lifeline. Students through Western Technical College’s Project Proven talk about how the faculty and staff provided that lifeline. Without the skills to apply to a job, it is difficult to retain a career, remain on track and live a productive life. Antoine Howell, a Digital Media Production student said this about his experience, “Western has given me the keys to success (for) my future. The staff here is amazing. They help you along the way.”

On one end of the proverbial justice-involved spectrum, needs of students might include getting advice on matters that may not be an imminent threat to their well-being, but that have the potential to derail their path to an education or career. Minor legal issues prohibiting someone from passing a background check, for example, might warrant legal advice. Many of the colleges offer free legal services to students or potential students dealing with such matters.

On the other end of the justice-involved spectrum, people may currently be, or recently have been, in detention and need to prepare for release. In these cases, the college works with local law enforcement and corrections agencies to offer instruction and services to give them a new perspective, increase their confidence and help them improve the likelihood of transitioning to a productive life when they return to the community. Services offered run the gamut, from establishing helpful community services including shelter and clothing, county and employment services, help completing their GED/HSED or getting on the path to earning a college credential. The college may help navigate the process of conducting job searches, creating a resume, applying, interviewing and networking. Other life skills might include budgeting and financial management, gaining or improving interpersonal skills, managing conflicts, developing customer service skills, computing skills and more.

Wisconsin technical college faculty and staff try to serve as that lifeline for many adults who, with some encouragement, have the potential to succeed in a career program that offers them structure, direction and helps builds self-confidence. Dena Iacono, a Culinary Management student described it this way, “(Western is) … solidifying my future to be a better future, and also helping me build my confidence and belief in myself, in what I can do and how far I can push myself.”

Many people considered disadvantaged are resourceful out of necessity, so they are savvy, smart and resilient; qualities that lend themselves to career success, even without specific job skills. These qualities happen to also be in high demand among Wisconsin employers who frequently say they have more jobs than people to fill them. So once the student develops job skills in addition to those smarts, those students who really seek change have tremendous potential.

Especially while economic uncertainty and unprecedented retirements create a vacuum where there would normally be a pipeline to skilled candidates, many employers need an additional talent pool to draw from. They can find qualified talent if they are willing to take a chance on someone without a linear career path.

People who display confidence in these students ready for change really appreciate it. “They make me feel accomplished. They make me feel worthy, they make me think that I’m somebody. I’m motivated to do it, because these people let me know, ‘you can do it.’ They say, ‘you can do it,’ and guess what? I can. I’ve never felt so welcome than I have at Western.”
said Michael Reynolds, Human Services student.

The transition to a life beyond incarceration may not always be smooth and seamless, but employers who support the efforts and give non-traditional candidates a chance will likely make a radical difference in that person’s life. It might also be very good for productivity, profit and overall business.

For more information on how Wisconsin’s technical colleges work with justice-involved students, visit the WTCS website at:


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