The workforce needs Steven Hurst

Steven Hurst (left) with Northwest Florida State College Inmate Welding Instructor John Greenhalgh. (Photos: NWFSC)

We don’t know much about Steven Hurst’s background, but what we do know is at some point he made a poor decision that landed him in Sheriff Michael Atkinson’s jail in Walton County, Florida. Steven’s actions resulted in him becoming another statistic making up more than 2 million people who are incarcerated in the United States.

At first glance, Steven blends in well with the other inmates. However, there is something different about Steven. There is unlocked potential inside him that goes unnoticed until given the opportunity to be released.

Additionally, Steven’s environment while incarcerated is quite unique when compared to other facilities throughout the country. The Walton County jail, led by Director Cory Godwin, has established vocational and education programs designed to create positive impacts on the lives of separating inmates. These programs include heavy equipment operation, OSHA certification, welding and many more. The programs are relevant and designed to meet regional demands resulting in high potential of job placement of the inmates upon release.

However, the support does not stop there. The local workforce board and others are called to the jail to ensure the inmates’ licenses, resumes and other necessary items are up to date, ensuring there are minimal barriers to employment upon release. These key partnerships are what separate these programs from other programs throughout the U.S.

An opportunity to succeed

Now back to Steven and why he serves as an inspiration to others in the workforce. Steven’s decision lands him in an environment that many of us will never experience or want to experience. However, Walton County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) commitment to reduce recidivism has now given him access to resources that encourage and equip Steven to alter his current path. Simple access to tools that could change Steven’s future is all the motivation he needs.

While incarcerated, Steven makes the necessary adjustments in order to fit the qualifications to apply to the welding program. He then sits in front of an interview board convened by jail staff and the Northwest Florida State College welding instructor as he moves through the rigorous selection process for the next class.

Due to the limitations of building a new program, there are limited slots offered to the inmates. Steven sets himself apart from the other applicants and is selected to participate in the welding program. He begins a compressed, intense 24-hour course designed to prepare him for the American Welding Society (AWS) welding certification test. Steven and his classmates would become the first class to have a 100-percent pass rate, receiving the industry-recognized AWS certification.

Coming back…as a visitor

Now comes the time for the graduation ceremony, but there is a slight problem. There is no Steven Hurst.

Steven served his time and was released that morning around midnight. As Deann Bertram of the sheriff’s office starts the ceremony, a corrections officer comes into the room stating that Steven was in the lobby. WCSO’s social media page described the scene best, saying that Steven “traded his stripes for a visitor’s badge.”

So what makes this story inspiring, and why is Steven Hurst a great example of who the workforce should be looking for? Steven understood the major implications this class could have on his life. He made the necessary positive decisions to start down a path towards success. Faced with much adversity and the barriers associated with being incarcerated, Steven remains determined to make a positive change so that he would not be another statistic regarding recidivism.

Finally, Steven’s commitment to success is nearly unmatchable as proven by his attendance at graduation. On the surface, we see a previously incarcerated inmate who completed a program. But by not simply glazing over Steven as a potential candidate for a job, you may miss important characteristics that could result in prosperity for your organization.

New graduates of the Northwest Florida State College-Walton County Sheriff’s Office Inmate Welding Program.

Critical facts such as Steven placing such a high value on graduation and receiving his certificate, that after being released at midnight, he attends a mandatory court hearing first thing that morning. Steven then walks nearly six miles in cold, rainy conditions so that he could attend graduation and receive his certificate.

Yes, Steven Hurst and many others like him have made poor decisions resulting in incarceration. However, providing access to opportunities of success has the potential to flip a switch that motivates an individual far greater than the average workforce candidate.

Steven should inspire us not to simply glaze over students or potential candidates that we routinely deal with, but to remember the potential locked inside each person. Ask the right questions during interviews to better understand the candidate rather than asking the same mundane questions pulled during an internet search.

Who knows, you might find a Steven Hurst.

About the Author

Bill Allison
is director of strategic workforce solutions at Northwest Florida State College.