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Plugging the skills gap with New Futures Network at the Ministry of Justice

Plugging the skills gap with New Futures Network at the Ministry of Justice

It is not often that employers discover an untapped source of skills in today’s labour market. Duncan O’Leary, chief executive of the New Futures Network at the Ministry of Justice, explains that recruiting prison leavers is one way to find the staff.

Unemployment in the UK is at historically low levels and employers across a range of sectors face skills shortages. The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) reports that employers have a high need for office staff, drivers and warehouse workers. In fact, the majority of companies CILT surveyed expected the UK skills shortage to increase in the coming years. Few people realise that 70,000 people are released from prisons each year, often with a huge appetite to work.

The Timpson Group is the best known of these, with around 10% of its workforce recruited this way. James Timpson’s rationale is simple: “I find that the staff we've recruited from prisons are among the best colleagues we've got.” Not only are staff reliable and competent, they can be extremely loyal having been given the opportunity of a second chance.

The Timpson Group may have pioneered this approach, but others are catching on. High street names such as Halfords, Virgin Trains, Pret a Manger, DHL and Lendlease now all do the same.

Timpson described to me a recent trip to a prison where he was surprised to find fewer candidates than usual – but that’s only because another company had been in the week before and got there first.

HOW YOU CAN WORK WITH PRISONS
Companies can work with us in different ways. Some place their own training inside prisons. For example, Halfords train individuals as bike mechanics while they are serving their sentence using the company’s own training manual. Others simply run recruitment days in prisons where they interview candidates ready for release and who are recommended to them.

One of the attractions for a business is that a huge amount of work goes on already every day in prison. In addition to the core subjects of English and Maths, individuals take part in courses which includes everything from fork lift truck driving to quality assurance on production lines. The Ministry of Justice also makes use of some of these skills itself, with some individuals on day release, and who are assessed appropriate to do so, working at their Branston warehouse.  

NEW FUTURES NETWORK
In the past, companies have not always known how to work with prisons and what the options are. A new team of experts – the New Futures Network – has now been set up to address this problem. Our role is to understand companies’ needs and guide them through the process of working in partnership with one or more prisons.

Since we were launched in October 2018, hundreds of companies have already been in touch and many are now recruiting successfully from prisons. We have experts placed all over England and Wales who are ready to work with you.

CASE STUDY: Clipper Logistics
Clipper Logistics is just one of the many companies that has benefitted from tapping into a talented pool of loyal, dedicated and hardworking ex-offenders.

The organisation, which has clients ranging from Halfords, John Lewis and Asda, launched its ‘Fresh Start’ employment programme in 2018, which focuses on getting minority groups such as ex-offenders into the workplace. Once recruited, these individuals are then placed into warehouse roles, giving them the skills needed to live more positive and law-abiding lives.

Richard Cowlishaw, Clipper’s group HR director, has hired over 100 previous offenders since 2018 due to the loyalty that they have shown towards the company. He said, “People are absolutely delighted to be given a second chance, a fresh start – within six weeks of our first ex-offenders starting, the site manager phoned me to praise the two new recruits and asked for more.

“I think there is a loyalty from ex-offenders because someone has believed in them – they are invested in Clipper, they are paid exactly the same as every other colleague and within this first year we have already seen some of them gain promotions into supervisory roles.”

Clipper delivers its Fresh Start programme in partnership with charity Tempus Novo, that works across UK prison sites to provide education and training to ex-offenders. They will also handle all of the recruitment processes for any businesses wanting to take advantage of hiring from this specific pool, including interviews, vetting and transport costs.

Richard added, “While organisations are learning culturally how to embrace and engage ex-offenders, partner with a charity that will support you – they are the experts.”

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