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"Talent team" prepares for federal prison


March 03, 2010
BERLIN — Officials from the Bureau of Prisons spoke with local representatives from various sectors via video-conference at White Mountains Community College on Thursday to try to coordinate efforts to recruit workers at the new federal prison.

"We want everybody possible to get a job at the prison or get a job at a business that supports the prison," said Mark Belanger, manager of the New Hampshire Works employment office in Berlin.

Mr. Belanger and John Dyer, director of the Workforce Development and Community Education Center at WMCC, led the meeting, while Cathi Litcher, activation coordinator for the BOP, appeared via video-conference.

The goal, Mr. Belanger said, is to ensure the prison has maximum impact on the local economy and helps the local community.

Executive Councilor Ray Burton and State Senator John Gallus joined representatives from New Hampshire Employment Security, Androscoggin Valley Economic Development Director Max Makaitis, SAU 20 Superintendent Paul Bousquet, SAU 3 Superintendent Corinne Cascadden, City Manager Pat MacQueen and others for the presentation.

"You are the partners we need to be at the table," Mr. Belanger said. The people in the room, plus other stakeholders in the community, will make up the talent team that will prepare individuals and businesses for the arrival of the prison so they can maximize the benefits.

The talent team model is based on the efforts of communities in West Virginia, Mr. Dyer said, where local stakeholders were able to vastly improve the eligibility of local residents for jobs at newly opening federal prisons.

Roughly 10 percent of local applicants are normally eligible for prison jobs, Ms. Litcher said, but talent team efforts in West Virginia increased eligibility to more than 60 percent for correctional officer positions.

"You can make it happen for you too," she said.

"We have to do the best we can for employers and potential employees," Mr. Dyer said. West Virginia created a partnership between the economic development sector, the community college, the high school and the workforce teams, he said, and now the North Country is doing the same thing.

WMCC got a small amount of money from the governor, he said, which can be put toward this effort. They will be bringing a professor up from West Virginia to train a group of trainers on a 15 hour course designed to help people fill out the federal government job application.

Mr. Belanger held up a three ring binder with the curriculum for the 15 hour course. "This piece is going to secure our success," he said. "This is actually a godsend for us."

They will also pull applicants' credit reports so they can deal with any credit problems before the BOP looks at their application.

Ms. Litcher said poor credit is one of the most common reasons people are disqualified from BOP jobs.

Federal prisons often go into depressed communities where people have been out of work for a number of years, Mr. Belanger said, and their credit has suffered as a result. It is important people address those issues if they want to get hired, he said.

Executive Councilor Burton asked Mr. Belanger how many unemployed people that the Berlin office of NH Works deals with will be eligible for BOP jobs.

"Very very little. Very little," he said. "The credit is the key. It's going to be hard."

But even those that aren't directly eligible for a BOP job will be helped, he said, as businesses move into town to support the prison or as people leave their current jobs to work there.

For those who might be eligible, Mr. Dyer said, there are no worries about cost.

"There is going to be no charge for these classes," he said, because the money from Concord will pay for everything.

The talent team model will also be important for quelling rumors and providing accurate information about the prison, Ms. Litcher said, because there are always rumors going around about the facility.

"We want a big team of people that have accurate information," Mr. Belanger said, and the talent team will serve as the primary source of that information. With enough information and preparation, he said, the community can hopefully be prepared when the prison opens.

Mr. Dyer agreed.

"All we can do is maximize the resources for local people," he said.

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