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Could Ex-Offenders Be the Key to Solving the Construction Skills Crisis?

The Ministry of Justice has proposed the idea that ex-offenders should enter the construction industry. The idea is that there is less chance of re-offending if there is something for ex-offenders to occupy their time and give them a purpose. The reason for the idea? Read on to find out...

A shortage of construction workers faced by small and medium-sized businesses has hit its worst level on record, threatening the Government’s grand plan to build hundreds of thousands of houses annually. We are lacking in people to build these houses, but ex-offenders find it hard to integrate back into the community and get a career on track that could give them a purpose.
The FMB, in its quarterly report on the state of the industry, found that companies are particularly struggling to recruit bricklayers and carpenters. Demand for skilled plumbers, electricians and plasterers is also outstripping supply. “Skills shortages are skyrocketing, and it begs the question: who will build the new homes and infrastructure projects the Government is crying out for?” said Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB. At HMP Brixton, almost 300 prisoners are undergoing training each year through five construction courses, which include:
  • Painting and decorating
  • Drylining
  • Scaffolding
  • Health and safety
  • CSCS
These courses mean that 240 in 300 prisoners every year will leave with a construction qualification to go back into the community and offer something to the world and to themselves. In theory, it’s a fantastic idea. The cost of keeping a prisoner inside is high and most men and women end up on the inside because of a lack of focus and qualifications, turning them to a life of crime. With an education, there isn’t a need to turn to a world of crime because they have something tangible within themselves - they are their own asset.
According to the MoJ’s estimates, roughly 2,000 prisoners took part in construction training courses during the 2017/18 academic year. These schemes have been designed to teach the most in-demand industry skills. An Office for National Statistics employment survey published in May found 80 per cent of main contractors reported difficulties in recruiting bricklayers in Q1 2018. More than half were struggling to find plasterers and 76 per cent were having trouble hiring carpenters. Courses in all of these trades are available in many prisons across the country. HMP Brixton is just one of 75 different prisons in the country to offer construction training courses to offenders, and if there is an argument to educate offenders to be productive in life on the outside, the housing shortage is that argument. With 2,000 prisoners taking part in construction schemes, that’s a possible 2,000 new contractors out there and building new homes while making a salary and life for themselves. The pride that offenders feel being taken seriously and given something productive to do while in prison carries on to the outside world. The charity Bounce Back are supporting offenders and they are responding to the needs of the construction industry while solving a problem about ‘lost’ offenders. Many offenders leave the prison system, to re-offend when they get back into the community. A qualification and the potential for a future can be a bigger deterrent for an ex-offender than the experience of prison in the first place. In HMP Onley on the outskirts of Rugby, there are 14 construction courses on offer and there is the opportunity to bringing ex-offenders into the construction industry. The roadblocks often sit where background checks are taken and ex-offenders aren’t being given the chance to prove their rehabilitation. With the right support from the transition services, the percentage of ex-offenders able to find a job on release - currently 17% - could rise significantly. There is a stigma on ex-offenders and it’s important that there is a support network between the prison sentence ending and the new job. Companies need greater support from the Ministry of Justice to be convinced to allow ex-offenders onto their teams. People generally don’t want to re-offend and end up back in prison, but if they’re not being given the chance to show their skills that their courses have taught them, there’s a vicious cycle that will never break. If more companies get involved with schemes to support ex-offenders, the construction industry would have less of an issue hiring workers. Education programmes have been shown to reduce the risk of re-offenders, but companies have to work closely with the MoJ to see this progress, so that ex-offenders can be given the opportunity to prove themselves.

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