PEARL ― Known for creating career pathways for young people across the state, the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation is expanding its reach to provide second chances to inmates at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.

Targeting first-time or low-level offenders, MCEF is launching a commercial drivers license training initiative that already has trucking companies looking to hire.

“It may seem like a peculiar deal on the surface, but the concept makes perfect sense when you think about it,” says MCEF vice president of workforce development Patrick Etheredge. “These individuals are not evil; they made some bad choices, are doing their time and will soon have an opportunity to start over. We want to give them the best possible foundation so they never go back to prison.”

The need for drivers and a desire to be good corporate citizens spurred some carriers to encourage the training of inmates to take the commercial driver license test.

MCEF introduced a pilot in November that drew more than 20 interested candidates. Following a rigorous screening process, the number was scaled to eight participants to accommodate space conditions and to achieve greater training effectiveness.

Trainees entered an accelerated, eight-day course that included lectures, soft-skill training, and hands-on simulations that allowed for practice driving in a risk-free environment. The main focus was to prepare inmates for the commercial driver license permit test.

“Today, prisons are very different as the focus shifts more towards rehabilitation,” said Shaniece Mabry, MDOC Director of Education. “The response of our returning citizens to this opportunity is exciting, and we are confident it will translate into countless benefits for them and our state.”

Building upon its initial success, MCEF is applying lessons learned from the pilot to create more CDL training opportunities for inmates starting in January.

About 40 to 50 students are expected to complete the program each year and it is certain that graduates will be in high demand, Etheredge said.

Upon their release, prospective drivers will go through appropriate driving and operational reviews with interested carriers. Once through a probationary period, the one-time inmate becomes a full-time driver.

“This program gives former inmates a head start on rejoining society in a productive way,” said Etheredge. “MCEF is proud to work with our partners at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility to help these men get a second chance.”

MCEF is a non-profit educational foundation that provides NCCER craft training and credentialing in more than 100 career and technical programs across the state. The foundation’s mission is to train individuals for the construction and manufacturing industries in Mississippi.

MCEF also offers workforce training and credentialing in construction, industrial maintenance and manufacturing trades.