Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge (OOHL) is a federal correctional facility in Nekaneet, Saskatchewan that houses women offenders. At the site, offenders are given opportunities to learn new skills that contribute to their ability to find and maintain employment after release. CORCAN offers a variety of construction related vocational and on-the-job training as part of the Indigenous Offender Employment Initiative.
In 2019, CORCAN collaborated with OOHL and CSC’s Information Technology (IT) branch to introduce an innovative program that teaches offenders how to safely operate a forklift using an electronic forklift simulator.
This training program, which compliments other on the job and vocational certifications offered to the women, is very popular. “Our residents are grateful for the opportunity to have this simulator onsite, especially when they hear we are the only institution who has one,” said Melissa Wickenheiser, program manager at the Healing Lodge. “There are times when we start scheduling time slots, there are some women who do not want to leave and would like to continue practicing.”
The forklift simulator, from the Canadian company SimLog, puts trainees at the controls of a typical factory forklift. The simulator software works on a high-end Alienware laptop. The trainee sits at a desk in front of a large computer screen, and uses a steering wheel, foot pedals, and levers that clamp to a desk. Behind is another screen showing what the location looks like behind the forklift to teach the importance of not only looking forward, but also looking back when driving a forklift.
“The forklift simulator helps to train new operators using many new and varied scenarios that cannot be done in actual training environments,” said Vince Mulhall, the IT officer who set up the simulator for the offenders. “And it’s a great tool for refreshing and recertifying existing operators. It also encourages safer operation techniques.”
The simulator puts trainees into a variety of virtual scenarios that are examples of real life situations they might encounter in transportation service centres, factories, warehouses, and distribution centres where a forklift is used. It includes a wide variety of virtual loading and storage arrangements, along with truck bays for loading and unloading.
“The simulator teaches patience. It is safe. There are no liabilities to worry about. The trainees receive immediate feedback from the simulator on what went wrong, where to improve, and it provides guidance and skill application,” said Melissa.
The benefits of using a forklift simulator include less risk during early training, increased trainee engagement, and cost reduction. It also has the added benefit of encouraging the women to try something new and builds an interest in a different type of employment.
“Having the forklift simulator at OOHL has allowed our residents to gain more confidence in what potential employment possibilities are available in their communities,” said Melissa. “We have a great plan for vocational training and having the forklift simulator gives our residents increased self-esteem to consider employment in trades instead of the traditional male versus female roles in the trades.”
More than 40 women at OOHL have started the training, and there are more on the waiting list.
Through this innovative training opportunity, offenders are able to safely learn and improve their forklift skills. But more importantly, Melissa added, “It has built a confidence within our women that they can do anything!”
Every day, CSC employees work hard to help offenders learn new skills to contribute to their reintegration, including valuable employment vocational and on-the-job training. This is accomplished through the delivery of essential and technical skills training, collaborating with CORCAN’s partners, and implementing new technology.
In addition, during 2019–2020, 12,119 participated in at least one vocational training course. Exploring new methods of delivery and opportunities help create new and innovative training programs, such as the forklift simulator.