Construction can offer prisoners a fresh start
The government announced this week that companies will be given £5,600 each time they get an ex-offender into work and keep them on for over two years. Charity, the Construction Youth Trust helps young offenders gain employment in construction - Director Christine Townley explains why it benefits both ex-offenders and the firms who employ them.
Have you ever made a mistake or done something you regret? I’m sure there are a lot of professionals out there who wryly wince when they recall certain moments from their youth.
At Construction Youth Trust, we have for many years been working with young people in custody who, for a variety of reasons, have found themselves on the wrong path and in trouble with the police.
The circumstances that lead to offending differ greatly from person to person but it is almost always the case that they have had a difficult upbringing, with many young offenders linked to the social welfare system. This is not an excuse of course, but does offer an explanation of how a pattern of offending can start during childhood - when we’d like to think that children are in a secure and stable environment during their formative years, sadly that isn’t always the case.
At a recent employer engagement event, we asked around the table whether anyone would employ someone who had an entry on their CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) certificate. The response was more enlightening than we’d expected as one employer had recently been asked to complete CRB checks on their existing staff, some of whom had been with the company for many years. He found that quite a number of staff had entries ranging from relatively minor matters to some a little more serious. Whilst it made interesting reading and he was certainly surprised at what he found, he nonetheless concluded that not a single one of the disclosures had any bearing on that person’s ability to do their job and be a good employee.
We run a programme called Toolkit for Life, aimed at helping young offenders to bridge the gap between custody and working life by providing routes in training, education and employment. By providing advice and support to young people during their custodial sentence, we help to raise their aspirations, build their confidence and show them a different way to lead their life. In partnership with contractors we’ve hosted many successful site visits for young offenders to show them the pride and stability that comes with having a steady job and to introduce them to employers they might otherwise never have the chance to stand in front of.
For the contractors that take the chance and employ one of the young people they meet, they have found that it can reap great benefits. Whilst for some it may be seen as a solid way to enhance their CSR, for others it is the chance to gain a loyal employee, someone who is so grateful to be given a second chance that they’ll grasp the opportunity with both hands and use it as a turning point in their life.
That’s not to say it’s always smooth sailing, there will occasionally be the possibility of it not working out– but isn’t that true of any employee? That’s where the Trust works hardest to ensure that employers and young offenders are both fully prepared for the commitment. We work with the Youth Justice Board, prisons and Youth Offending Teams to select young people who really want to work and who are looking for a way to support themselves and turn their back on crime. We have a rigorous selection process that is followed up with mentoring, training and occasionally small bursary funding, for example, to gain a CSCS Health & Safety Card or to help with bus fare until that first pay day.
The fact is that there is a wealth of hidden talent out there – young people who given the opportunity will become the skilled workforce of the future. It is widely reported that the chance of reoffending is much higher for those who remain unemployed, and we can even take you into prisons and young offender institutions so that you can meet for yourself the young people who want and deserve a second chance. We want to ensure that society benefits from helping offenders into work as much as individuals. By reducing the likelihood of reoffending we can help to make communities safer, reduce the associated cost of imprisonment and provide someone with the opportunity of a better life.
If you want to do one thing today that will make a real difference pick up the phone and speak to me about how you can help a young person to turn their life around through employment – with our help it’s easier than you think.
Christine Townley, Director, Construction Youth Trust 020 7467 9540.