The first chapter of a partnership years in the making is in the book and could provide a model to fill a much-needed void in Iowa’s workforce.
Dan Smith, Wastewater Superintendent for the City of Anamosa, had been working for a couple years on the possibility of training an incarcerated member of the Anamosa State Penitentiary as a wastewater operator to help the plant handle its workload in a cost-effective way.
The partnership recently had its first graduate of sorts, as Doug Skinner recently got a job in the industry after gaining his release.
Smith said the idea had been broached a couple years back but was made possible last year due to the change in city administration.
“It’s the first program like this in the state for wastewater, to my knowledge,” Smith said.
Skinner was carefully screened by the administration at the penitentiary, working for the department for nine months. Six months qualifies an individual for a grade one wastewater license. At the start, Skinner was responsible for handling some of the more menial tasks, freeing up some of the more skilled employees to focus on more of the advanced matters. As he got more familiar, Skinner, too, was able to progress on to more intricate jobs.
The use of incarcerated individuals for work around the city is not new. They help the street departments and clean up around the Lawrence Community Center, but this is the first partnership that elevates that work to train the individuals for potential future employment.
There’s a shortage of qualified wastewater operators across the state, and Smith said he told Skinner he would walk out the door with a very marketable and needed skill.
“When you walk out that door, you have a skill that a lot of cities are looking for,” Smith told Skinner.
Feb. 27, Skinner was able to take the Class I Wastewater test at the Department of Natural Resources office in Manchester. He missed getting his license by five points on his first attempt, but he plans to try again. Skinner was released on parole on Monday, March 18, and had a job interview lined up the following day with a wastewater pump company near his home town. Skinner found a job with a pump company out of Bettendorf.
Smith has talked to a lot of different organizations about doing the same thing, including the state’s board of corrections, challenging them to get on board with a similar program. Smith said he believed a similar training program could be beneficial to the city’s water department as well.
The penitentiary has already set up the wastewater plant with a new candidate, and it’s not a program they plan on stopping any time soon.
“We’re going to keep doing this,” Smith said. “Everybody needs a second chance some times.”