The Skill Mill – giving young offenders a second chance

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Research shows that ex-offenders who manage to find employment are less likely to re-offend. Given the skills shortage, our industry could be an ideal place to teach them the skills they need to get into employment.

There are a number of programmes across the country looking at young offender intervention, and The Skill Mill is one that was home-grown. It started here in the North East and has since grown around the country. The Skill Mill is a Not for Profit Social Enterprise providing employment opportunities for young people aged 16-18. It was established to combine the provision of high quality and cost-effective outdoor work with maximum social impact.

The young employees undertake accredited training and achieve a nationally recognised qualification. They acquire knowledge and skills by working alongside local private contractors and partners. The first site was set up in Newcastle in 2014 and has since expanded to Liverpool, Leeds, Durham and North Yorkshire. Each site takes on four young people for 6 months, paying them minimum wage. It gives them real work experience, a nationally recognised qualification and further opportunities for progression at the end of the programme.

Workers are selected based on a combination of attitude, skills, punctuality and vulnerability. It’s not the usual case of choosing those who is right for the job, it’s quite the opposite. Those who are already ‘work ready’ are not selected; they focus on those who need extra help.

The idea initially came about after the Environment Agency approached the Newcastle Youth Offending Team about cleaning up local waterways, and from that, The Skill Mill was born. It mainly undertakes water and land-based management, helping to reduce flood risks and improve the local environment. Since then, they’ve been commissioned to undertake several projects across the North East. Newcastle City Council commissioned them to protect a low-lying area of the Quayside from coming Spring Tides. The team-maintained culverts around Newcastle, clearing them of silt and other blockages, reducing flood risk and ensuring the structures were accessible for inspection by the Newcastle City Council engineers. The team have also replaced all the wooden sides of the flower beds and planters around Merchants Wharf, a job that was well received by local residents.

There is a 11.5% reoffending rate among those who have already taken part in the programme and when you compare that to the national reoffending rate of 42.2%, it proves it really is working. The end goal is getting all participants into full time employment. Across the five sites in England, from the last cohort of 20 young people, all went on to find employment after the placement ended.

A further six sites are launching next year around the country, funded through a social impact bond from the government’s Life Chances Fund. I’m looking forward to seeing how many more people benefit from the programme and in turn, how the industry benefits from the new talent pool.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.