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Back on the straight and narrow

Training young ex-offenders is a socially responsive way of plugging the skills gap. By David Craik.

How much would you have to be paid to train a young offender in construction skills? How about £250?
That is what is being offered to construction firms in Yorkshire and Humberside to join a scheme called Building For Success, which aims to give young people under supervision the chance to get construction qualifications.

The scheme was launched in June by education and training charity Rathbone. It is disappointed that only 10 construction firms have so far signed up to offer work placements.

“We have had expressions of interest but we need more commitment. Hopefully the financial incentive will help,” says spokesman Peter Gibson.

Sixty trainees are involved in the 26-week programme which aims to train 150 young people.

Apart from the financial incentive Mr Gibson believes construction companies should be joining the scheme for social and business reasons. “They can tackle their skills shortages because they may unearth a very successful employee. They can also have the satisfaction of helping a young person turn their life around,” he says.

Such training schemes are not new to the industry.

ConstructionSkills, the sector skills council, supported the construction facilities centre created in 2005 at HMP Lindholme near Doncaster.

ConstructionSkills recruitment manager Paul Sykes believes the industry must consider “all possible routes of entry - from young people leaving school, to retraining adults who may have been out of work for some time”.

“After all,” he says, “the industry needs 90,000 new recruits each year.”

Essex Youthbuild

Another scheme keen to attract construction firms is run by the Construction Youth Trust. Essex Youthbuild was set up six months ago to train young offenders on court orders.

The rolling scheme lasts for 24 weeks and the trainees undertake minimum two-week placements with firms, including RG Carter Builders.

Jethro Bogdanov, education, training and employment manager at Essex Youth Offending Service, says he is talking to other construction firms.

“We hope to build a consortium of interested contractors. One or two have told us straight that they don’t take offenders, and others have worries over whether the trainees will pose an insurance risk. But others see the potential of developing local skilled labour.

“This is the first formal project the young people have been to in years so there are bound to be issues, but they want to learn.”

Mr Bogdanov says recruitment is the main rationale for getting involved. “Skill gaps exist at every level in the construction industry.”

However, in the first six months only three trainees have been put on site. And so far one has gained a job with an RG Carter subcontractor.

He is 18-year-old Jamie Turney. “I gained a qualification in carpentry in jail and I wanted to take it further,” he says.

He admits that working on site was difficult at times.

“It was daunting. I turned up and I was told to get on with the work. The site was huge.” But Jamie is full of praise for the other workers who welcomed him to the site. “I love my new job. I am very thankful to everyone who helped me.”

Toolkit for Life

The Construction Youth Trust launched another scheme in the West Midlands this summer. Toolkit for Life involves training young offenders while they are serving their sentences.

The organisation hopes to attract 20 companies to the scheme. Lovell is already on board.

Les Inkpen, craft management advisor at Lovell, says the company has a long history of working with offenders. It taught bricklaying skills to prisoners from HMP Onley in 2000. Of the 20 trained, one prisoner achieved the set qualification.

But he admits young offenders can be difficult to manage. “They had drugs and violence in their pasts and we did not have the tools to work with them. If they had housing or money problems we could not help them. A lot reoffended.”

The Toolkit provides the specialist help needed, says Mr Inkpen. “We have a link to the probation service, so they will assist with housing.”

Lovell is hoping for 10 workers a year to come through the scheme. But Mr Inkpen sees the scheme as more than a quick fix for skills shortages. “This is a social commitment. We want to train the youth of today. They want to be given a chance.”

The apprentice… You’re hired

Jamie Turney is proof that taking on ex-offenders can be good both for the trainee and the employer.

Shortly after his release on a Detention and Training Order, he enrolled at Essex Youthbuild.

Working on site with RG Carter, he gained a City & Guilds qualification in bricklaying and obtained his CSCS card.

Following a work placement, he was offered a job as a site operative. His achievements were recently recognised in the National Youthbuild Awards.

Schemes in search of work placements

  1. The Construction Youth Trust launched Toolkit for Life in the West Midlands for individuals who have offended, served their sentence, and are now seeking to use their skills to secure work and avoid a cycle of reoffending. The first TFL candidates will be ready for placements by the end of the year. Email: cyt@cytrust.org.uk or call Mark Bennett on 0207 227 4560.

  2. Essex Youth Build was launched in 2004 and engages persistent young offenders in full-time work-based construction training. At stage one they receive training in the trades at City & Guilds level. At stage two they attend site visits and complete placements, working towards NVQ level 2. For more information call project administrator Carol Milner on 01245 461 700.

  3. Building For Success, launched this summer, is a 26-week programme aimed at 16 to 18-year-old offenders in Yorkshire and Humberside. Contact training charity Rathbone for more information: www.rathboneuk.org

  4. The National Grid has created the Young Offender Programme to train prisoners prior to release for employment in the gas industry. Until now the take-up has mainly been in the logistics and warehousing sectors. That, according to programme director Dr Mary Harris, is about to change. “We are now dipping our toes into the water of the construction sector,” she says. To find out more go to www.nationalgrid.com/youngoffender

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