“Many cars require major assembly removal in order to do the repairs,” said Leclair, who has worked in the automotive field since 1992. “We’re finding in the body shop industry the big body shops will have a mechanic; they have to.”
Leclair helps them learn to think critically to diagnose problems and work on soft skills, which he has found to be essential to prepare them to work when they are released from prison.
“What made Southwest Airlines so successful is that they don’t hire people with the skillset, they hire people with the right attitude and teach them the necessary skills,” he observed. “We call it ‘men teaching men.’ In the prison system, it’s really hard for an inmate to tell another inmate what to do, but I think we’ve overcome that in our little area of the world. My TAs are well-respected by the other guys.”
By state law, most inmates receive $40 and a bus pass when they are released. Leclair hopes that by teaching them a trade, they can make a living wage when they are released.
“A lot of these guys have been incarcerated at a young age and don’t have a skillset or a trade,” said Leclair. “If they leave here with a trade, then they don’t have to resort to activities that are less than desirable. If we give them a skill, they make great employees.”
An advisory committee is set up where the automotive instructors regularly meet with the industry as part of the curriculum development to find out what types of positions they are searching for.
Last year, one of the inmates who took part in the automotive program was released from prison and hired as a foreman at a Ford dealership in Arizona. Another, who had served 17 years, was hired to work as a mechanic in Yakima, WA.
“He took the skills he learned in the program and within three weeks, he was promoted to be the main mechanic in the facility,” said Leclair.
For those questioning whether or not to hire a former inmate, Leclair said if they are given a skill, studies have shown they make great employees.