How can our company address a need in our workforce while also leading other companies to help solve a persistent societal issue? DTE is announcing a first-of-its-kind program with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson is home to MDOC’s Vocational Village, which will train current inmates eligible for parole for an in-demand career—tree trimming. 

Our company depends on 1,300 skilled tree trimmers to keep trees away from power lines, but Michigan continues to face a critical shortage of qualified people. At the same time, people coming out of prison have an unemployment rate of 60 percent – more than 15 times the overall state rate – and without stable employment, roughly one-third will reoffend. 

Executive Chairman Gerry Anderson with students of the Parnall Tree Trim Program

DTE worked closely with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 17 to design and install a climbing structure and training curriculum for the program at Parnall. The DTE Energy Foundation provided the initial grant of $100,000 to purchase training supplies, tools and equipment for the indoor learning lab. 

Returning citizens will be eligible to join IBEW Local 17 as Line Clearance Tree Trim apprentices as they complete the program and earn paroleThe first class of 14 men began training in early June and a second group of 10 will begin in August. Students will learn to safely climb trees, use tree trim equipment and obtain a Commercial Driver’s License in the program. 

“This is a partnership unlike any other, and I think it is the first in what could be many when we see how this is going to change lives and improve our skilled workforce in the State of Michigan,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer said during the announcement at Parnall. 

Ultimately, a partnership like this can demonstrate how the private sector can partner with government and non-profit organizations to solve large societal problems. 

Jeff Gunnells is one of the inmates in the pilot program. Gunnells takes responsibility for his incarceration, and appreciates the opportunity offered through this program.  “We sit idle a lot in prison, and to be able to put your hands on tools and work and to feel like a classmate instead of an inmate, is big for us,” he says. This program gives me hope, because there’s a second chance to finish strong, to provide for my family and kids, and to prove myself as a man who’s worthy of trust again.” 

“At DTE, we’re passionate about helping returning citizens find employment, enabling them to begin to rebuild their lives,” says Executive Chairman Gerry Anderson. “A criminal record shouldn’t be a life sentence of unemployment.”

For more information on this program, listen to the Empowering Michigan podcast.