Building a Stable, Skilled Workforce Through Pathways to Education

Eric Grove, PEER participant posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2022 in  College News

For the first time in his life, Eric Grove is excited to go to work.

The 37-year-old Evansdale native (pictured) started as a forklift operator at Viking Pump on January 3, 2022, and anticipates being able to take on a more technical job like CNC machinist in a few months. 

The new job is a major milestone on what Grove calls his “path to self-improvement,” and he credits much of his success to an innovative new program at Hawkeye Community College. 

Grove is one of more than 100 individuals in the Pathways to Education and Employment for Reentry (PEER) program, which provides education and career services to individuals with a criminal record in the First Judicial District. The goal of PEER is to reduce recidivism while also expanding the skilled workforce. 

“One of the biggest factors in reducing recidivism and future involvement in the criminal justice system is employment,” said Ken Kolthoff, director of the First Judicial District, which serves 11 counties in northeast Iowa. “This is truly an opportunity for people to gain skills and knowledge to get not just a job, but a meaningful career to sustain themselves and their families.”

Iowa’s community colleges have worked with the prison system for years to provide education and training. What makes PEER unique is a broader focus on community-based facilities like the Women’s Center for Change and the Waterloo Residential Facility, in addition to Black Hawk County Jail.

Grove first learned about PEER while a resident at the Junkman/Knobel Center, a residential living facility for individuals recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. After years of struggling with alcohol addiction, Grove moved into the center to begin recovery in spring 2021. Soon after, he was visited by Gabrielle “Belle” Fleischhacker, PEER program coordinator, who gave a presentation to the residents about the resources available to them. 

“I wanted a new job, but I didn’t know how I was going to make my resume look good or what I was going to say at the interview,” Grove said. “I was lacking a lot of self-confidence... Belle reached out and made me feel comfortable – like it was something I was capable of doing.”
That same day, Grove signed up for IGNITE: Introduction to Advanced Manufacturing, which provides foundational skills in advanced manufacturing like CNC programming, robotics programming, smart automation, and more. He completed the course on December 10, 2021, and within a week, had two job offers. 

“Going into the interviews both places, I felt like I knew what I was talking about and I had confidence in my skills,” Grove said. “My current employer said me going through [IGNITE] was a factor in bringing me on.” 

In addition to helping Grove enroll in IGNITE, the PEER program linked him with career services and resume prep, with regular check-ins to identify and address any barriers. 

For some, those barriers are time, money, transportation, or other resources. For others, it’s self-doubt, fear, and lack of trust. This is what makes the relationships formed through PEER so valuable, says Jessica Roush, a jail division social worker for Black Hawk County. Once participants return to the community, Fleishhacker and career pathway navigator Michele Clark continue working with them toward their goals. 

“They don’t have to retell their story or their goals and barriers; they already have that relationship,” Roush said. “Sometimes in this setting people have walls up and they’re guarded, so they do a good job breaking through those.”

Grove credits PEER with not only helping him gain the skills for a new job, but the self-confidence to go out and find it. Now one year sober and working in a job he loves, Grove is already looking forward to moving into his own apartment and someday completing more training at Hawkeye. When he’s ready, PEER will be there to help.

“If you have training and a job you feel good about, that carries you a long way toward having no further involvement with our system,” Kolthoff said. “It’s life-changing.”

To learn more about PEER, visit, or call 319-296-4296, ext.3103.


  1. Business and Community Education
  2. Pathways to Education and Employment for Reentry
  3. Workforce Training and Community Development
Back to top