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Local officials help inmates find future in workforce

 

NATCHEZ — The Adams County Sheriff’s Office with the help of local economic development officials is offering soon-to-be-released inmates a step toward finding their future in today’s workforce.

The sheriff’s office now offers inmates ready to re-enter society the ACT WorkKeys Assessment to determine what skills they have to offer to future employers and what education would be necessary for them to reach their employment goals.

Ruth Nichols, Assistant Vice President for Community and Economic Development at Alcorn State University and coordinator of the Miss-Lou Work Ready region, said the sheriff’s office provides the nationwide work-readiness test to hopefully turn around inmates’ lives.

The test determines how much education inmates need to obtain employment in hopes they do not return to jail, Nichols said.

Although the test is one step toward improving former inmates’ lives, it also benefits local businesses, Nichols said.

The test improves the workforce in Adams County because it is a work-based evaluation. Job seekers can that their test results to interviews and use the test to document how their skills match the needs local companies are seeking in future employees.

Nichols said a strong workforce draws industry, sustains families and improves the economy.

“You never stop improving your workforce,” Nichols said. “When the workforce improves, everything improves.”

ACT, the company that administers the test, said assessment is set up to verify the following cognitive skills: problem solving, critical thinking, reading and using work-related text, applying information from workplace documents to solve problems, and setting up and performing work-related math calculations.

Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said many companies are willing to consider hiring former inmates and that the test helps them determine if prospective employees have the skills to do the job.

“There are many businesses out there that have second-chance job opportunities,” Russ said. “Adams County is no different. Many businesses around here are aware of this test.”

Nichols said companies such as Applebees, Google and Marriott Hotels are on a list of more than 100 businesses nationwide that will hire ex-offenders.

In April, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office also hosted the Second Chance Job Fair for former offenders. Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten said offering the job fair to former inmates was important for everyone in the community.

“When inmates get out, they typically go back to their community,” Patten said. “That’s what they know. We want them to be productive members of their community.”

Patten said approximately 30 former inmates were hired through the job fair. Yet, he hopes more get hired in the future and Patten said he believes this Work Keys test will help do that.

“These former inmates don’t need a hand out, they need a hand up,” Patten said. “It’s a confidence booster as well. When people are done serving time, we want them to be better on the way out than they were on the way in.”

Patten said the Work Keys test will be another way to help inmates when they get out of jail.

“(The test) will give them a starting point to change their life,” he said. “I personally want to see these people to get the best shot for themselves, family and community. I’m all for this test because it helps do that. I want people to go out to be productive members of society.”

Adams County became the first Mississippi County to be certified as a Work Ready community in 2015. Adams County and Concordia Parish, the Miss Lou Work Ready Region, was the first Work Ready Community/Region nationwide to cross state lines.

“All good things start with a good job and good opportunity,” Russ said. “To help find them employment is something beneficial to the community and economy.”

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