Ex-Cons Help Solve Construction Worker Shortage

January 11, 2018

The Southeastern Arizona Contractors Association and the Cochise County Sheriff's Office have teamed up to create "Framing Our Future" to serve both former inmates and area building contractors to help one another.

The Arizona Republican reports Cochise County developer Rick Coffman, senior vice president for Castle and Cooke, says contractors are complaining that the labor shortage is slowing down production and hurting home sales. Coffman came up with the idea to form a program that helps prepare exiting inmates for full time jobs and providing those people with a qualified referral to homebuilders in need of workers.

Under the program, the Cochise County Sheriff's Office will make initial contact with potential workers and refer any interested individuals to the Southeastern Arizona Contractors Association.

Ben Carter leads the Southeastern Arizona Contractors Association, which is made up of about 50 developers, subcontractors and other construction-related companies, said the recession caused experienced workers to looked elsewhere to make a living. Now that the area is recovering, contractors are facing a shortage of qualified workers and are having to invest in more training to bring underskilled workers up to production level.

The referral program allows Cochise County deputies to offer a questionnaire to individuals they book into jail, asking if they have experience in construction and if they're interested in getting a job.

If they are, deputies refer them to SACA, which will pass along the application to its members. Individual companies will be responsible for vetting each applicant. As part of the program, SACA will visit the jail once a month to talk to inmates interested in jobs after they complete their sentences or are released.

Sheriff Mark Dannels points out that the Framing Our Future program doesn't concentrate on violent offenders. "We're looking at those that are down on their luck, those that can contribute to society that still want to contribute to society and are willing."

Using U.S. Department of Labor funding, Arizona@Work can help pay for up to six months of training along with 50 percent of the worker's gross wages while he/she is being trained.

In 2017, Cochise County booked more than 6,200 people. Dannels said that if the program helps at least one former inmate get back on track, it will have been a success. However, Dannels has set loftier aspirations with an eye to expanding the program to the state or even national level.