Matthew Tilt, Governor of Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Onley, explains how a government-led drive to reduce reoffending could not only lead to safer streets, but help meet the construction’s recruitment needs.
Prisons, with their high walls and closed gates, are often the last place businesses think to look for a skilled, enthusiastic workforce.
Yet traditional sources of labour are no longer meeting recruitment needs. Statistics from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development show 56% of employers have reported difficulties filling vacancies. This is particularly true for the construction sector; the Federation of Master Builders recently said, “two-thirds of construction SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers and 60% are struggling to hire carpenters and joiners”.
As part of a government-led drive to reduce reoffending, prison governors like me have been given more opportunity to tailor the education we provide to prisoners. Meaning we can offer courses and qualifications that upskill our men and women in areas local job markets desperately need. With education we are not only providing an opportunity for businesses to unlock new talent. When prisoners are given the skills to enter employment on release they are far less likely to reoffend – meaning fewer victims and safer streets.
At HMP Onley we make sure that people are being released as fully-qualified brick-layers, carpenters and even forklift drivers. Prisoners around the country are also doing their CSCS card applications, so they’re ready to walk straight onto site, where they’re needed.
Some employers see taking on an ex-offender as taking a risk, but often more information is on offer about an ex-offender than someone off the street. Prisons can often provide a comprehensive skills and qualifications record, alongside an overview of an individual’s behaviour and attitude so employers get someone who’ll fit in with their business.
Construction businesses who already work with the prison service – JP Concrete, Balfour Beatty, Keltbray – found that ex-offenders can make very loyal employees and that getting prisoners integrated back into the community helps them win contracts.
As part of a panel looking to create a new generation of construction professionals, I’ll be drawing on my extensive prison experience to outline the offer to the sector from Her Majesty’s Prison Service - with details about the types of training we provide - and offering practical tips on the first steps for businesses who want to hire from this under-tapped workforce.
Matthew Tilt served in seven prisons, before taking up his current role as Governor of Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Onley. He is passionate about education and employment, having seen how effectively they can be used to rehabilitate offenders. At HMP Onley he oversees education programmes that equip prisoners with the qualifications and experience needed to fill skills gaps in the construction sector.