New Jacksonville Port Academy Quickly Prepares Ex-Offenders For Work

Mar 7, 2017

Operation New Hope CEO Kevin Gay, Jax Chamber Chairman Darnell Smith, JaxPort's Eric Green and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry's Chief Staff Kerri Stewart announce the Jacksonville Port Academy, Tuesday.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

Nonviolent ex-offenders now have a school designed to quickly train them for jobs at the JaxPort.

The school, called the Jacksonville Port Academy, was created by the nonprofit Operation New Hope, Florida State College at Jacksonville and JaxPort.

New Hope CEO Kevin Gay said depending on the season, JaxPort can have about 2,000 job openings.

“Why are folks not making it at the port? What is the main reason?,” Gay said. “We learned that there was a significant skills gap deficit on folks coming. It wasn’t that folks didn’t want to work. It wasn’t that folks didn’t want to have a job at the port.”

He said traditional FSCJ training programs for port jobs can take up to 18-months, but felons fresh out of prison don’t have that kind of time. Gay worked with the college to create a 40-hour program that can be completed in a week.

The curriculum was crafted by FSCJ with input from a focus group of 33 port tenants, who have jobs to offer.

The first cohort of Port Academy students begins later this month. The academy and the UNF logistics classes are in a building behind Operation New Hope in Springfield.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

“Anywhere from crane operators to your laborers at our cruise terminal. They sky’s the limit,” said JaxPort’s Senior Director of Government Affairs Eric Green. “There are warehouse jobs. There’s all types of forklift jobs and things of that nature.”

He said the average salary of a port worker is around $43,000.

“A crane operator can easily make six figures,” Green said.

Operation New Hope launched a similar 40-hour logistics-training course through UNF two years ago. Thirteen classes of about 15 students each have graduated, with a 91 percent job placement rate.  

Gay said typically people finding work through Operation New Hope are making up to $13 an hour. The organization also prepares its clients with life coaches and courses aimed at adapting to life out from behind bars.  

The first cohort of  Port Academy students begins later this month. The academy and the UNF logistics classes are in a building behind Operation New Hope in Springfield.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.