What ex-offenders can bring to the industry

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

Government figures show that more than 82,500 people are in prisons across the UK and those who are set for release face re-entering society, getting their life back on track and starting the long, difficult process of looking for a job as an ex-offender.

Encouraging ex-offenders back into work reduces the likelihood of re-offending but it also gives employers access to a pool of talented and motivated individuals. Research shows that only 17% of ex-offenders are in PAYE work a year after prison release. Given that the industry is already struggling with a skills shortage and after Brexit it’s only going to get worse, hiring ex-offenders could solve many of our problems.

Since May 2018 more than 230 businesses have registered to work with prisons and set offenders on a path to employment. This is further to the 300 businesses around the UK including Halfords, Timpson, Virgin, Greggs, Pret a Manger, Boots and Balfour Beatty that are already employing ex-offenders. A few years ago, Esh Group co-ordinated the ‘Chance for Change’ programme. The programme offered 15 prisoners in Deerbolt Young Offenders’ Institution at Barnard Castle the opportunity to develop a range of skills prior to their release in a bid to stop them going back to a life of crime. The inmates took part in weekly workshops each led by managers from those businesses taking part in the project. They focused on issues such as the skills, attitude and behaviour important in the workplace, managing finances and living independently and personal responsibility. An important feature of the programme was the opportunity for some of the young men involved to be Released on Temporary Licence (ROTL), making it possible for them to go out of the prison on work experience.

Just last week, a new construction academy inside HMP Leeds was launched, training prisoners towards level one national vocational qualifications including bricklaying, tiling, carpentry and joinery. Kier are one of the first construction companies to support the initiative but I hope many others will follow suit.

There are plenty of programmes now to help get prisoners back into work and I’m so glad the industry is playing its part. By expanding the use of ROTL for work and broadening access to training and work opportunities for prisoners we can work towards steering them away from a life of crime and towards a new life with a stable job and new skills under their belt. Not to mention, they will be filling the skills gaps and the workers shortage that is only expected to get worse – it really is a win-win situation for all involved.

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.