Apprenticeship schemes providing prisoners with on-the-job experience are now underway, following a change in law to remove employment barriers for those with convictions.
The schemes, which began this week, will place prisoners currently serving time at open prisons and/or those at the end of their sentences on to apprenticeship programmes with big-name employers – including Greene King, Timpson and Kier – in a bid to curtail the UK’s predicted skills shortage.
Skills minister Andrea Jenkyns said the changes would “plug the skills gap” for the future, as the apprenticeships will provide new workers in vital sectors most hit by the gaps, such as construction and hospitality.
Previously, prisoners did not have access to apprenticeship training, but were able to study, train and work while in jail. Pre-apprenticeship training was also offered, alongside the ability to work on a temporary licence in the community for a select few.
The change in the law means that prisoners undertaking an apprenticeship through the scheme will have no need for an apprenticeship agreement – classed as an employment contract in law. This will enable up to 300 prisoners who are eligible for day release or at the end of their sentence to be recruited by 2025.
Businesses can no longer afford to exclude people with criminal convictions – the announcement of this new scheme is a step in the right direction, said Charlotte Gibb, employment and skills campaign manager at Business in the Community.
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She highlighted that employers could do more to be inclusive towards offenders and remove barriers from their recruitment processes: “If employers want to ensure they are practising inclusive recruitment and not overlooking untapped talent, they should go further and remove the criminal convictions tick box from the first stage of recruitment for all roles.”
Suki Sandhu, chief executive and founder of INvolve and Audeliss, said the scheme would drive systemic change and provide upskilling opportunities in a prison system where people of colour are “disproportionately overrepresented”.
“From a DEI perspective, this scheme can help by alleviating barriers to entry and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to gain qualifications that will allow many to be set on a course to a better, more fulfilling life,” he added.
Ian Moore, managing director of Lodge Court, welcomed the change in law but warned that companies should audit their capacity to support a prisoner on an apprenticeship scheme. "We encourage business leaders and HR departments to give thorough consideration to whether or not they can support ex-offenders before embarking on a programme,” explained Moore, adding that regulations, training and communication means there is “a lot” to consider.
Meanwhile, the government has announced that Sheffield City Council, Co-op and Premier Foods, alongside “more employers covering all sectors of the economy”, will be joining the scheme at a later date.