In July 2020, we were riding high, celebrating being awarded ‘Highly Commended’ at the ERSA Employability Awards in the Offender Related Support Services category.
So it was disappointing to see data released in July that showed 88% of offenders released from custody between March and June who were available to work were unemployed (Community Performance Quarterly release to March 2020, Ministry of Justice, July 2020).
We believe this data doesn’t reflect the wider situation in employability and skills for ex-offenders, for the following reasons.
It doesn’t take into account other meaningful activity that can lead to jobs
A lot of ex-offenders need training or guidance before they are able to get a job, particularly if that job is to be meaningful and long-term. In our experience, those who engage in employability support, information, advice and guidance, and/or vocational training are more likely to get a job or apprenticeship and then keep it. Forward delivers training courses for unemployed ex-offenders through the Job Centre Plus Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS), with 88% sustaining a job or apprenticeship after 13 weeks.
Going straight into a role isn’t necessarily a measure of success
It’s unusual for ex-offenders to come out of prison and immediately secure well-paid, steady roles. For those that do go into work straight away, it’s much more likely to be ‘atypical’ work (such as zero hours or agency work) on the wage. But as Covid-19 has shown, these sorts of roles are much more unstable, with people employed in this way more likely to have been furloughed or made redundant. If employment truly is to be a mechanism for reducing reoffending, then it will surely be most effective if it leads to steady, better paid and more sustainable employment. For that to happen, training and education are key. The training we deliver through our Adult Education Budget contract is a prime example of how this can work: 80% of the people we have supported so far achieved new qualifications and progressed into better jobs or apprenticeships than they were able to secure before.
What about entrepreneurs?
Our experience of delivering enterprise support has shown that some ex-offenders are keen to become self-employed or set up businesses, even during the Covid-19 crisis. It is not clear whether the Quarterly Release reflects this growing trend. Since 2018, our Forward Enterprise Fund has funded six enterprises that are either owned by ex-offenders, or support ex-offenders and/or people in recovery.
Careers advice is critical
As a Matrix Standard accredited provider, we know that high quality, impartial and frequent careers advice is important to raise the aspirations for ex-offenders and others we support. In the last year we supported over 2,500 learners in prisons through our growing information, advice and guidance services. And as I emphasize above, it’s often crucial first step towards meaningful employment.
Collaboration between prisons and the community must be part of the solution
Partnerships between prisons, training providers and employers are critical: it is harder for ex-offenders to secure work if they aren’t linked into a network of people that can support them to find a suitable role or programme. We have worked hard to build partnership with Learning and Skills Managers, Job Centre Plus, the New Futures Network, prison education providers, employers and apprenticeship providers, to help ease the transition for our clients.
In summary, we believe that the debate has to move from simply ‘getting ex-offenders into any old job’ to a focus on progression and genuine career paths. Helping ex-offenders and people who have struggled to find work to improve their education, skills and workplace behaviours is critical if they are to move into sustainable work, apprenticeships, further education or enterprise. Lessons should be learned from the Department for Education and Department for Work and Pensions in relation to outcome-based measures, particularly in apprenticeships and adult education.
In July 2020 we launched our new Partners and Employers Network (PEN), for commissioners and employers who are committed to achieving better outcomes for learners and our clients. You can join the network here.
Asi Panditharatna, Divisional Director, Employment Services
The Forward Trust’s Employment Services delivers information, advice and guidance (IAG) services, vocational training, employability, enterprise and apprenticeships.
We also support and develop social enterprises. In 2020 we were awarded the Matrix Standard for IAG services and were a finalist in the ERSA Employability Awards.