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Inmates Learn Job Readiness Skills Through Virtual Reality Program

The program will soon also be implemented in Knox County Jail to help current inmates practice their job search skills, which they can use upon release.

Knoxville, Tenn. — Virtual reality is all the rage. From gaming to education, it breaks the mold of traditional entertainment.

But now a new virtual reality program could help break the cycle of inmates getting arrested again.

The initiative is called “Project Overcome” and is part of Goodwill’s international goal of helping people find jobs. They want to help incarcerated people by teaching them how to talk comfortably about their incarceration when looking for a job, while learning how to use modern technologies in a low-risk environment.

The experience is designed specifically for those affected by the criminal justice system who wish to enter the workforce.

Trish Richards is in the middle of a job search. She was recently released and tried out the virtual reality program at the “One Stop Re-Entry Shop” on January 20.

“I would be lying to you if I said it won’t be difficult in the real world,” the virtual assistant said on the VR headset.

Trish was asked a series of job interview questions and practiced giving answers. At the end of the process, the program reviewed their responses and provided feedback on how to improve.

Ayoka Huff-Johnson is a program coordinator at Goodwill. She said one of the best parts of the program is that it’s non-judgmental.

“It’s a non-threatening way to answer some of those tough questions about their background, experience, etc. Then it gives immediate feedback so people can see, did they choose the best answer? And why or why not that was the best answer,” Johnson said.

People can walk through virtual reality once or multiple times. There are several different characters, scenarios, and interview questions to practice answering.

“He offers as much help or as little help as people need as they go through this difficult process,” Johnson said.

VR headsets are used in monthly back-to-school one-stop shops; however, they may soon be entering Knox County Jail.

“As part of our ongoing work with Knox County Jail, we took this RV and demonstrated it to their staff,” Johnson said. “We’re working on the logistics right now of how we can deliver that, so people can get that help and assistance before they leave the facility and be ready to get started with their job search.”

The VR program is very new to Goodwill Knoxville. They received the grant from Goodwill International in December.

Additionally, Goodwill was recently cleared to return inside the prison, due to COVID-19 security measures. They promote job readiness through training sessions and seminars inside the prison. The team hopes that VR sets will be part of it soon.

“It’s a good thing for Knoxville. And hopefully it’s something that’s replicated in other communities,” Johnson said.

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