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Reflections on Unlocking Construction

Senior National Employment Manager and lead for the sector, Emma Wagstaff, reflects on our second sector-based recruitment drive, Unlocking Construction.

Building on solid foundations

After the success of New Futures Network’s first Unlocking Hospitality recruitment drive last year I was excited to lead on our second sector drive, Unlocking Construction in January 2023.

As a whole, construction is one of the most sought after sectors for prisoners. This is due to a combination of existing skill sets amongst prisoners and the desire to learn a new trade. It has been a great experience to partner with ambitious organisations who are working hard to offer employment opportunities for serving prisoners and prison leavers. This includes raising awareness of the construction sector across the women’s estate and providing women with more job opportunities.

Concrete results

Unlocking Construction’s two-week campaign, between 23rd January – 3rd February, was delivered in prisons across England and Wales.

The response has been remarkable:

  • 1,941 prisoners attended 90 events
  • Over 100 leading employers have offered over 200 interviews, which have already led to 23 subsequent job offers. I’m sure this total will increase as we process more interviews!
  • 1,057 ID documents were purchased in these two weeks alone, which shows how many prisoners were prompted to seek the correct documentation to become job ready.

We’ve got the tools to succeed

The purpose of Unlocking Construction was to raise awareness for serving prisoners and prison leavers on opportunities linked to:

  • Prison industries
  • Prison education
  • Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL)
  • Employment on release

Prisoners attended events like construction demonstrations, group information sessions and employability workshops, where employers showcased the jobs on offer and gave prisoners an insight into the range of opportunities available within the construction sector. One prisoner told me:

It put my mind at ease for release…talking to people that are more willing to employ people from jail gives us hope.

One event at HMP Wormwood Scrubs was led by the National Access and Scaffolding Confederation (NASC), who came equipped with a virtual reality scaffolding headset to help people get a feel for working at height.

One prisoner at the event was initially unsure about the industry but chose to stay and discuss with peers and NASC about the sector, showing how engaging the workshop was:

I think today went well, I was a bit nervous as I’ve never done an interview or anything like that before, but I want to get registered and contact DSG before I get release… I would like to prove everyone wrong and show that inmates can change if given the chance to. I thank you all for the opportunity.

At the end of the event, he was visibly more confident about the range of jobs in the sector and will take up the opportunity to follow-up with the employers who attended regarding vacancies.

From speaking with employers throughout the recruitment fortnight, it’s clear that the construction sector is experiencing skills shortages and are keener than ever to offer jobs to prison leavers.

A new focus

I would like to extend a massive thank you to everyone who contributed towards the success of Unlocking Construction. Without the support from my colleagues at New Futures Network, prison staff and key stakeholders including O’Neill and Brennan, Kier Group, National Access and Scaffolding Confederation, Willmott Dixon and many more, this would have not been possible.

Keep an eye on our LinkedIn and X (formerly Twitter) channels for more information about future events.

By Emma Wagstaff, Senior National Employment Manager – Construction Sector