Prisoners will be able to apply for apprenticeships for the first time under new government plans to reduce reoffending and support local firms facing skills shortages.
Under new regulations due to be introduced later this year, those serving sentences in open prisons in England will be allowed to apply for apprenticeship opportunities in a number of “vital industries'', including hospitality and construction.
The scheme will initially be offered to up to a hundred prisoners in England, and is expected to be rolled out to prisoners across the UK by 2025. It will be made available to prisoners either on day release or nearing the end of their sentence.
“Apprenticeships will offer prisoners a life changing chance to gain the skills they need to secure a rewarding career, while providing more businesses with the skilled workforce they need to grow,” said Nadhim Zahawi, secretary of state for Education.
The move was welcomed by Angela Cairns, chief executive of Unlock, who said the scheme was “long-awaited” and a “step forward”.
However, Cairns noted that convictions remain on record as being unspent for two years or more after leaving prison, depending on the length of the sentence, meaning they still show up on background checks. This opens former offenders “up to discrimination from employers and others, often for many years after their sentence is over,” she said.
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“We would like to see the government do more to reduce the prejudice, stigma and discrimination faced by people with criminal records.”
Kate Carr, employment and skills campaign manager at Business in the Community, said the scheme would boost both the confidence and the employability of offenders looking to re-enter the jobs market. “Employers stand to benefit too as, with job vacancies at a record high, more companies need to open their doors to pools of untapped talent” she said.
But, the problem of reoffending could not be solved “by a handful of businesses alone”, said Carr, calling on more employers to consider offering apprentices opportunities to those serving prison sentences.
Lizzie Crowley, senior skills adviser at the CIPD, also said there was more employers could do “to ensure they aren't unnecessarily locking ex-offenders out from accessing employment opportunities”, including “making their recruitment practices more inclusive and broadening their talent pools".
Currently, prisoners do not have access to apprenticeship training, but are able to study, train and work whilst in jail. Additionally, 5,000 prisoners are currently able to work on temporary license in their communities, while pre-apprenticeship training is also offered.
According to the government, polling last year found that nine in 10 employers who had hired ex-offenders said they were reliable, trustworthy, punctual and good at their jobs.
Separately, the government has also launched 1,500 new ‘flexible apprenticeships’ as part of the ‘Flexi-Job Apprenticeship’ scheme – announced last April – which will allow individuals in some sectors to earn their apprenticeship qualification by working on multiple short projects with different employers, each a minimum of three months, as opposed to a working with a single employer for the duration of their programme.
The scheme is specifically designed for employers in sectors – including construction, and the creative sector – where flexible employment patterns and the prevalence of short-term roles make it harder for firms to take on apprentices.