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Hiring prisoners can help tackle skills shortages

Employers that train and recruit ex-offenders are well prepared for economic challenges

Organisations are offering training for prisoners, with the aim of hiring them on their release. Programmes involve inmates attending workshops in prison that equip them with the technical and soft skills needed for a job at a company after they complete their sentence.

Duncan O’Leary, CEO of the New Futures Network, which builds relationships between employers and prisons, reported that as well as tackling the UK’s skills gap there’s also a commercial driver. “Within the prisons themselves prisoners produce a significant amount of goods, from concrete to fishing nets,” he said.

“Employers have been working directly with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to find out precisely what’s needed, particularly with concerns over skills as we negotiate our exit from the EU. For example, some prisoners are being trained to operate forklifts after organisations specifically needed more people who are able to do so.”

But opportunities aren’t confined to technical skills, O’Leary added: “Companies like Pret A Manger are less concerned with [these], and more so with people who have the right temperament, social skills and attitudes.”

Government plans to give prison governors full responsibility for managing education and training provision for inmates came into force in April 2019. Employment opportunities are proven to help reduce reoffending, with MoJ data showing that ex-offenders who get a job after prison are up to nine percentage points less likely to reoffend.

Motoring and cycling retailer Halfords has trained 12 women to become bike mechanics while serving prison sentences through its Halfords Academy at HMP Drake Hall, Stafford. The Academy has so far had a 100% success rate in getting all trained female prisoners into full-time roles at the company.

Speaking to HR magazine, Halfords’ group head of resourcing and people shared services Andy McBride said: “We’re committed to having people from a diverse range of backgrounds on our teams. As taxpayers we also see it as our duty to give something back to society.”

Prisoners must meet certain criteria to join the Academy, she said: “Trainees are selected usually on the basis of the length of their sentence – generally this is around six to nine months... As part of a duty of care we do not allow anyone to apply who has been convicted of a sex offence.”

McBride added that it is vital that prisoners receive the right support to complete the training: “We’ll then conduct an interview, which can be quite different to the standard interview questions on skills and experience. We’re more interested in whether they have the commitment. [Questions] can sometimes be quite hard hitting – we’ll ask if they are getting support, if they are in contact with their family, and what sort of support they’re getting. Once we’re sure they’re ready to undertake the training we have a one strike and you’re out rule – rudeness in particular is not tolerated.”

The programme benefits both the company and individuals, McBride said: “This has transformed people’s lives, with one of the girls who started in the workshop as a prisoner now going on to a management position. If we look at technical

skills in this country there is a clear need for more mechanics and engineers, and specifically for more women with these skills, so contributing to that is something we’re incredibly proud of.”

Chris Moore, CEO of The Clink, a charity that trains prisoners for roles in the hospitality sector, said ex-offenders can be very committed to their roles. “This can provide a huge sense of achievement and engagement among staff. Because, as you can imagine, ex-offenders are extremely grateful to have been given a second chance and to be given steady employment, so they are often extremely loyal employees,” he said.

There’s also evidence that these programmes help ex-offenders stay out of trouble, with Clink graduates recording a 15% reoffending rate against a comparison group rate of 22%.

Moore added: “There’s barely a day that goes by now without an employer asking us if we have anyone who would be right for a role.”

This piece appeared in the September print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk