Why Ex-Offenders Could be the Answer to the UK Labour Shortage
Employment in the UK has boomed in recent years. With around 845,000 vacancies, the number of people in work at record highs and an exodus of European workers, there are now severe labour shortages in many sectors.
In that context, it’s truly dispiriting that we can expect just 17 per cent of the 71,000 prisoners released every year to be in P45 employment one year later. While the reasons for this are complex, it suggests that prisoners aren’t learning the skills that would qualify them for vacancies outside and businesses are still nervous about employing people with a criminal past.
In much of the country, prisons and businesses are two separate worlds that rarely collide. As business owners agonise over how to fill their vacancies – perhaps as they drive past prison gates on their way to work – they are unaware that part of the answer may be hidden on the other side of the prison walls.
Tackling this requires local intelligence. That’s why it is was encouraging to hear the prisons minister, Rory Stewart, say recently that prison education should not just be relevant to employment, but local employment. It’s no use training prisoners to cut hair if an area is already full of barber shops.
While training prisoners in skills needed to go self-employed is helpful, businesses have a vital role. The New Futures Network is beginning to match prisons to local employers but with six in ten employers automatically rejecting applicants with a criminal record, it’s clear that businesses need greater confidence that taking on an ex-offender will not necessarily put their enterprise at risk.
Many business owners have painstakingly built their business over many years and are understandably wary of turning to prisoners to fill vacancies. But if prisons show they have a detailed understanding of the local labour markets needs that their prisoners will be released into, businesses will take notice. Employers’ confidence can be built further by giving them an opportunity to shape prisoner training, which also provides a way to develop familiarity between prisoners and their potential employers. The assumptions of the businesses we work with are turned upside down when they realise that by working in a prison, they will know more about a prospective employee with a criminal past than if they turn to a recruitment agency or look overseas.
It can be done. Last week four men at a prison where we work in northwest England were employed on a day release basis returning to prison each night. What’s more, the jobs in the construction industry are theirs on release and the hourly rate - already well above the minimum wage - will more than double. These men are now role models on their wing, with others asking how they can follow their lead.
The benefits for the community are clear – ex-offenders are less likely to return to crime. But businesses need to be given something more tangible than the nebulous concept of “doing the right thing”. Unless we demonstrate the potential value they could be missing out on, businesses will continue to pass prisons by and overlook the huge opportunity for their organisation.
To find out more Seetec’s prison education and skills services, including labour market analysis services for prison governors, contact us today https://www.seetec.co.uk/justice or 01702 201070.