By Lt. Kirk Geringer, AA/PIO, Pleasant Valley State Prison

Full of apprehension, inmates with little or no experience walk into a class full of lawn mowers, weed edgers and chain saws. After guidance and supervision, many find themselves walking out of the class having learned a trade they’ll find useful upon release.

Small engine repair technicians are trained to correctly identify the parts of two-cycle and four-cycle engines, troubleshoot lawn equipment and perform preventative maintenance.

Before enrolling in the Small Engines Vocational Class, inmates are required to have their high school diploma or GED.

The students are tested on their general technical knowledge about small engine design, construction and operation. For grading and certification, the exams are forwarded to the Equipment & Engine Training Council (EETC) in South Carolina.

Inmate Calleros was “the most reluctant student,” according to the instructor, but in a short time, became the first student to be certified in both two- and four-stroke engines. He didn’t stop there.

Calleros became a teacher’s aide assisting other students in the training to become certified, learning yet another trade until he graduated.

“It is really great to see the students start the program and see the transformation in their demeanor as they complete the sections,” said instructor Pete Gonzales.

The two-stroke and four-stroke engine certification tests each contain 150 questions covering knowledge of the skills related to diagnosis, service and repair.

The EETC Accreditation Program was created by the EETC Education Committee to improve the quality and consistency of training.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 21-percent increase in demand for small engine repair mechanics between 2010 and 2020. Median earnings for the career were $31,790 in 2010.

Since July 2013, 29 inmates have earned EETC certifications with nine of them in both two- and four-stroke engines, which are in addition to course-level testing.

Inmates enrolled in the class must complete over 750 hours of classroom instruction and testing to graduate.

The class instructor is actively seeking donations of diesel engine equipment to be used in the class.

See a video about the program here.