Greggs, Co-op & more | Major firms join mission to get thousands of prisoners into work

Major firms join mission to get thousands of prisoners into work

Bosses from some of the UK’s most well known firms have joined an initiative to help prepare prisoners for the world of employment when their sentences are served.

Big name businesses including the Co-op, Greggs, Iceland and Oliver Bonas have been appointed as Employment Advisory Board chairs in 92 prisons, which help prepare prisoners nearing the end of their sentence for release into the community.

The boards link prisons to leading business figures who can offer their expertise on the skills, qualifications and training needed to help prisoners re-enter the workforce.

Using these insights, prisons can tailor their training and workshops to match local labour market demands so ex-offenders are job-ready when they walk out the prison gate.

The benefit to society...and to HR

The initiative was launched in March 2022 and will play a crucial role in boosting the UK economy while tackling the £18 billion annual cost of reoffending, with ex-prisoners in steady employment being nine percentage points less likely to reoffend.

Getting more prison leavers into work helps to protect the public and the number in employment six months after release increased by almost two thirds between April 2021 and March 2022, from 14% to 23%.

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Research from the Ministry of Justice shows that 90% of businesses that employ ex-offenders agreed that they are good attenders, motivated and trustworthy. Harnessing the talent from those leaving the prison is already supporting employers to fill vacancies bringing benefits to businesses and the UK economy.

Richard Walker, Executive Chairman, Iceland Foods, said: “The rehabilitation of offenders back into the workforce can offer huge benefits to UK businesses and give those individuals seeking employment a much-needed lifeline. At Iceland we feel it’s the right thing to do, and although we’re at the beginning of this rehabilitation journey we are already seeing how it can offer real societal and business impact.

“Employment Advisory Boards allow business leaders, including Iceland’s own Director of Rehabilitation Paul Cowley, an inside track to support ex-offenders, equipping them with much needed skills that employers like us will value both now and in the future.”

Beckie Rowland, Greggs Fresh Start Manager and EAB Chair at HMP Foston Hall, said: “At Greggs, we pride ourselves on our culture, creating an environment which is inclusive of everyone. Being an inclusive business also means making it easier for people who might face challenges with getting a job.

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“Through our Fresh Start programme, we proactively offer training and work experience to people who are transitioning into work, including care leavers, people who have been unemployed for a long time, or who are leaving the armed services or prison. We provide employability workshops, mentoring, mock interviews, interviews, placements and, most importantly, sustainable job opportunities to candidates that we would not ordinarily meet.”

Dedicated job experts have been recruited in every resettlement prison in England and Wales and will walk prisoners through job applications and give them interview training so they are ready to find jobs in booming sectors such as construction, haulage, and logistics.

One-stop hubs where prisoners can access career advice and support with tasks such as CV writing have also been established in 91 of 92 resettlement prisons.

‘Having a job gave me direction’

Dan Whyte is a former prisoner who went on to found and Co-Direct DWRM Consultants, a firm which works with universities to offer a much wider range of degree courses than are currently available to students in prisons.

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He said: “When I received my life sentence, I had no qualifications at all, but I was determined to use my time inside productively by studying and focusing on the career I wanted when I walked through the prison gates.

“Having a job gave me the direction I needed to stay on the straight-and-narrow after my release and now run a successful business helping prisoners get access to university training and education.”

‘It’s very empowering’

Nadia, a former member of Revolving Doors who is now in full-time employment, said: “It’s very empowering for those who are in prison to get support to access employment opportunities. It sends the message that just because you’ve got a criminal conviction, doesn’t mean you’ll never be employed.

“There are still difficulties and adjustments to make when you are in work, but this is a positive step in the right direction. I hope that with the right support in place, this initiative will help others grow professionally like I have.”

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