Re-entering society after years of incarceration is difficult for many reasons, perhaps the most insidious of which is the difficulty of finding a job—and which training and transition programs are inadequate. Emerge Career hopes to change that with a revamped facility training curriculum that provides a more modern approach to in-demand careers.
The startup itself is about to come out of Y Combinator’s latest batch, founded by two people who were working to improve another flaw in prisons: video calling. In the year Covered in 2020, Amilio replaces aging proprietary video calling systems in prisons based on a modern open source stack, saving money and making the overall process simpler and better for everyone involved.
“Having spent the last three years developing technology for prisons, we have become sensitive to the major challenges they face post-release,” said Uzoma Orchingwa, co-founder of Amilio and Emerge. Gabe Saruhashi. “Re-entry and prison education is left to very small and underfunded organizations, and post-release workforce training is based on traditional brick-and-mortar schools, which obviously limits their reach and ability to scale.”
Prison call systems have drawn complaints from regulators and activists for being exploitative and unethical, but in this case even well-intentioned people face an uphill battle against entrenched methods and red tape.
“So we felt the need to create a separate body to develop people who were already incarcerated and use government funds,” Orchingwa continued.
To be clear, though, this isn’t some new shortfall in state budgets.
“There is already money for training, but it is underutilized,” he explained. “We were working with a government agency that had funding but not enough training providers,” Saruhashi said.
These providers tend to be local vocational schools and community colleges with very limited resources. While they can provide some training, they are not familiar with the in-prison and post-release ecosystem, which involves more bureaucracy and personal constraints than the schools have the ability to handle.
Amilio has helped prison systems improve technology with inmate-administered tablets and video calls, and some of the same technology is being used here.
“We built an offline system, recognizing that people don’t always have access to the Internet. All work can be done offline, and you can sync when you are online – similar to Coursera,” said Orchingwa. “We have a teacher who supports students through communication. We work closely with the Amelio system to have office hours and support students’ needs.
Once logged out, you can complete the class using a mobile app that works similarly. (Reviewing (P.
Saruhashi says the team’s experience in debugging as a vendor means they understand the environment in which their systems will be used, such as security constraints and site practices. There are also ways to obtain the necessary paperwork, identification, and other personal and professional documents that cannot be handled at a small local business school.
The first training program is the Emerge Commercial Transport License. The trucking industry is on the brink of crisis as the workforce shrinks and it struggles to attract new ones. The pay is good and the work is stable – perfect for someone trying to get back on their feet. Some prisons have simulators or trucks that are necessary for the training class. And because the demand for drivers is so high, employers don’t see the possibility of hiring someone who has been incarcerated before.
Here’s what Trayvon had to say about it:
Anyone who has worked with people coming out of prison (I did years ago) has seen how much pressure they face, but at the same time how much opportunity they are denied. Someone like Trayvon is living proof that a little help goes a long way, not just for him, but for the community and the government that supports him.
It has caught the attention of lawmakers, who are always on the lookout for ways to increase jobs (check), reduce recidivism (check) and tie budget line items to tangible results (check).
“The transportation commissioner was actively looking for a way to get more people into the profession. So he gave money to the DMV to come to jail and proctor tests and then after release, they go directly to our trucking partners,” Orchingwa said.
It doesn’t mean that the business needs friends in high places to get things done – but someone who is generally in charge of allocating the money to the mortgage as a state seller should pay attention. If the model works, it will benefit everyone. The company has signed more than $2 million in LOIs and signed contracts starting in Connecticut and is in talks with three other states.
“There is certainly an abundance of money, and regardless of your values or political leanings, everyone sees a great need for it. There is a shortage of freight and many people are suffering and unemployed,” he added.
After proving their system works with trucking, the company plans to expand into manufacturing, healthcare and other industries with high labor shortages. The obvious opportunity for coding-based careers is on their radar, but in today’s competitive job market in tech, someone can face a 4-6 month application and interview process that a recent layoff can’t afford. “Our people need jobs immediately,” Orchingwa said.
Emerge Career is organized as a public benefit corporation and is looking for like-minded investors while completing its work at Y Combinator.