Future of work

How inmates who fight wildfires are later denied firefighting jobs

Firefighters battle flames north of L.A. in this 2008 photograph. Photo: Mike Meadows / AP

There are more than 2,000 prisoners doing the grueling work of fighting California wildfires, including the record-breaking Mendocino Complex Fire, according to the California Department of Corrections. This is a long-standing program in which inmates earn up to $3 a day for their volunteer work, but upon release it will be almost impossible for them to get a firefighting job in the state.

Why it matters: Many prisons offer educational and job training programs for inmates hoping to work in fields like cosmetology, firefighting or even law after serving their time. However, due to complicated occupational licensing laws that often result in denials of former criminals, the training is often useless after incarcerated men and women are released.

Expert Voices

Trump's call to retrain workers a chance for business to step up

Donald Trump surrounded by Ivanka Trump and guests signing executive order on worker training
President Trump signs an executive order during the White House's job creation pledge event on July 19, 2018. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The White House recently announced an effort to promote high-tech worker retraining for the workplaces of the future.

Why it matters: The U.S. does not have a talent development system for “middle skills” jobs — those that require more education and training than a high school diploma but less than a 4-year college degree — which is no small problem, since only one-third of Americans over age 25 are college graduates.