Entrepreneurial Skills Training Boosts Reentry Success (Justice Involved)

 Entrepreneurial Skills Training Boosts Reentry Success (Justice Involved)
Robert E. Rubin, former Treasury Secretary and co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a June 3, 2016 Op Ed in the New York Times, “…most experts in the field agree that preparing people for life after prison is a critically important public investment that would alleviate poverty and increase worker productivity.” He then listed the essentials needed to help those reentering society from prison become productive tax-paying citizens:
  1. Educational opportunities
  2. Removal of unfair barriers to employment
  3. Secure and stable housing
  4. Health care coverage
  5. Transitional assistance such as skills programs, training and job placement

Everyone involved in the world of reentry agrees with these five imperatives, but Rubin fails to mention that skills training programs are only valuable if employers are willing to hire people with felony convictions. Since that’s often not the case, many returning citizens must consider self-employment. In other words, starting their own business could be the most viable option for earning a living wage.

Organizations in at least thirteen states recognize a gap in entrepreneurial skills and have stepped forward to provide training in this area. All of them have a slightly different twist, but most seem to give participants the basic training needed to decide whether to pursue an entrepreneurial path and begin the process of starting a business. Even if they opt against self-employment, they will understand the fundamentals of how a business runs -- making that person a better employee for someone else! A few of these programs are taught inside prisons, but most are being taught by non-profit organizations committed to successful reentry following release.

One such initiative is the PRIDE program in Connecticut. PRIDE is the brainchild of Connecticut resident Barry Diamond, who was the founder and owner of a successful small consulting business, and himself a convicted white-collar felon. I find Barry’s program differentiated from the many other good ones because it was developed by and is being taught by a former felon who had been a successful businessman.

Barry understands what happens inside a prison as an inmate, as well as what returning citizens face with respect to the five challenges cited by Mr. Rubin. He also understands the reintegration process and how to best handle it. Barry speaks bluntly, and “walks the talk” to PRIDE program participants.

Barry’s students develop a business plan while learning the many facets of running a business, such as:

  • the legal aspects
  • required licenses
  • accounting requirements
  • taxes
  • business records
  • business processes
  • banking and financial relationships
  • understanding and researching the market
  • writing a marketing plan
  • knowing your target market - customers/clients
  • sales
  • basics of operations and management
  • human resource initiatives

The packed ten-week program is strictly voluntary and, more importantly, it is offered at no cost to participants.

Student Chris Weir, whose entrepreneurial aspirations include owning a shop that makes and sells gourmet Jamaican Patties, said, “My biggest obstacle was basic organization and knowing where to start. I always wanted to be in business for myself. The PRIDE program pushed me to get started.” In addition to basic business exposure, the training gave him the motivation to improve some vital business skills he felt were lacking such as writing, grammar and public speaking.

Barry was astute enough to realize that soft skills, also called interpersonal skills, are as important to entrepreneurial success as the technical aspects of running a business. Consequently, he reached out to me to develop a session focused on:

  • communications (written, oral, and social media)
  • teamwork
  • networking
  • enthusiasm
  • problem solving
  • critical thinking

The ten weeks culminate in the judging of business plans and a formal graduation ceremony. Following graduation, students continue to have access to some of the resources, including Barry, as well as our blog, http://www.softskillsbuilder.com.

Ric Bachman, one of the program’s early graduates, and a frequent speaker in PRIDE program sessions aimed at self-evaluation of personal goals and aptitude for entrepreneurship, describes himself as an “accidental entrepreneur.” With Barry’s guidance, he found a path that has been right for him and very lucrative. Ric had been selling sports collectibles, art, and memorabilia online (http://www.yourrealdealcollectibles.com). “The class provided me education that enabled me to expand my thinking. We were given a background in what is needed to be a viable business.” Barry’s guidance helped Ric to grow his business into a highly successful online venture.

Well-grounded entrepreneurship programs are critical for many returning citizens who find themselves unable to find employment, equipping them to determine if they should pursue self-employment and how to get the process started. I predict great success for PRIDE and programs similar in their objective of developing independent, successful, and tax-paying entrepreneurs.

For more information about PRIDE, contact Barry S. Diamond at theprideprogram@gmail.com



About the Author

Lucy Baney is a co-founder of the Soft Skills Builder blog, and also serves as the President and CEO of Access Technologies Group, Inc. (ATG).

ATG's core products and expertise are in technology- and classroom-based "soft skills" training. The company has extensive experience helping public, private, and non-profit organizations develop — in both incumbent and potential employees, including people with employment barriers — the attitudes and behaviors necessary to enter, re-enter, and succeed in the workplace. Our focus is on addressing the deficiencies reported most by employers: the interpersonal abilities and personal qualities needed to succeed across all occupations and industries.

Contact Lucy at lucyb@atghome.com, or visit our website at http://www.atghome.com, for more information.


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