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Emerge Career Creates Pipeline From Prison to the Workforce

The training program lets formerly incarcerated people get a CDL and also aims to address the truck driver shortage.

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A new program call Emerge Career is creating a pipeline from prison to the workforce.

It provides truck driver training, helping people that are getting out of prison get on their feet, while also addressing Connecticut’s trucking shortage.

For three formerly incarcerated people from New Haven, re-entering society proved to be a challenge.

“It was stressful coming home to restart your life over. It was a big task,” Trevon Barnes, an Emerge Career graduate who now lives in Hamden, said.

They say it was especially difficult when it came to getting a job.

“You'll definitely be judged for your record,” Florene Little said. “They just judge you, they don't give you a second chance. So I felt like I got a second chance”

That second chance came through Emerge Career. Little wanted to be a truck driver for years, finally achieving that goal thanks to the job training program.

“I drive 18 wheelers,” she said. “I love it. I get to see towns that I'd never heard of before in my life.”

Emerge Career helps incarcerated people hit the road when they’re released, giving them commercial driver’s license training.

“Right now, I work at Cisco,” Dyshawn Davis said.

The three graduates, some of the program’s first, have all landed work with trucking companies.

“Overall, I really love my job,” Barnes said.

Emerge Career is the brainchild of two Yale graduates, Uzoma Orchingwa and Gabriel Saruhashi. While working with incarcerated people on another tech project that helped people in prison stay in touch with their loved ones, they saw a major need for support for those going through re-entry.

“It was crazy to us, because we learned it was a huge trucking crisis across the country,” Saruhashi said. “These people were, they were hungry. They wanted a second chance, but no one was giving them, and we were trying to figure out why.”

So during the last legislative session, the Emerge Career co-founders promoted a bill that would make CDL training available through the Department of Corrections. It had the support of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut and Connecticut Business and Industry Association, and it passed the legislature unanimously in April.

State funding that was already set aside for this kind of training is being tied to tangible results through Emerge Career, with people getting connected to the program through re-entry centers, like Project M.O.R.E. in New Haven.

“When they get into this CDL program, and they're actually able to change their life, it affects the home. It affects employment, so that's financial, and even gives them a personal and professional development,” Latesha Nelson, Ameelio Career CDL operations manager who also works at Project M.O.R.E., said.

People in the program can study independently offline, or take courses at their convenience using a mobile app.

Over the next two years, Emerge Career plans to educate 140 people in the Hartford region, and 15 people every month out of the Bridgeport area. Down the line they also plan to expand training into other areas where there are serious labor shortages, including nursing, manufacturing and construction.

“Of the people who've come through the program, 87% have graduated, and 100% have gotten employment making over $70,000 a year,” Orchingwa said.

“I could not get into that school to save my life,” Little said, about trying to enter a CDL training program. “Probably because of my past history. But Emerge came into my life and it changed everything for me.”

Completing the program has been transformational for the three graduates.

“I see my future going all the way up. Like it's no more looking back,” Davis said. “I plan to own a couple of trucks and start my own business. And do with my friends what with Emerge did with me, and try to help them out and push them to go to school.”

They are now not only grateful to be on a career path, but also looking to start their own businesses and make an impact on those around them.

“Where I know my future's headed from here, I know, in a few years, I'm going to have a successful company. I'm going be doing good,” Barnes said. “Hopefully I can start up a company similar or something, and give back to my community.”

Right now, the program is open to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in Connecticut and Rhode Island. The Emerge Career co-founders say they are looking to expand to veterans and low-income people who need access to skills training in the future.

Since the program is technology-based, they hope to expand nationally and reach hundreds of thousands of people.

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