Ex-offenders can be just as effective in helping plug the skills gap as apprentices in industries such as construction, a concrete contractor has experienced.
Cidon Construction made a commitment to provide a second chance to those in prison in 2018, since then the business has taken on over 20 ex-offenders on their construction sites across the North.
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Stephen Simpson, director at Cidon Construction, told The Yorkshire Post: "We've taken on apprentices in the past to varying degrees of success but the retention rate wasn't great. We were thinking about a different avenue, where we could get guys in and train them up."
The concrete contractor, which has around 250 staff, got in touch with Leeds-based charity Tempus Novo after hearing of the work that it does placing ex-offenders into jobs. After being given a tour of a prison, Mr Simpson realised that there were a variety of different people in custody and Cidon set up workshops to identify people that they might be able to train.
He said: "We weren't predominantly looking for people with a construction background. That was not really important to us.
"What was important to us was people who wanted to make a change, people who have got a work ethic, people who are motivated, people who have got the right attitude.
"We said we'll employ for attitude and train them up."
Utilising the Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) scheme, the firm started to give ex-offenders an opportunity to turn their lives around with gainful employment.
It's not always been straightforward, Mr Simpson concedes. Not everyone employed from this particular route has stayed with the business. Some have gone back to their old ways.
"But the retention rate has been a hell of a lot better with these guys than it ever was with the 16 to 20-year-old apprentices," Mr Simpson says.
The Barnsley-based business has also been rewarded with a good work ethic and punctuality with the ex-offenders "thankful of the opportunity".
"The guys we have taken on, I wouldn't have a bad word said about any of them for the time that they have been with us," Mr Simpson said.
Cidon, which has projects across the North West, has been working with HMP Thorn Cross, an open prison in Warrington.
Daniel Cooper, the governor at Thorn Cross, says opportunities such as those provided by Cidon can help break the cycle of re-offending.
"We know the three key factors of people living positively in a community, when they come out of prison, is to have accommodation, good relationships and to have a job," he said.
Ex-offenders who get a job after prison are up to nine percentage points less likely to reoffend, according to the Ministry of Justice. Mr Simpson says that not only does hiring ex-offenders help plug potential skills gaps that a business may be facing but it also helps make a difference in the communities in which a firm operates.
"They're going to get out of prison at some stage," he said. "The choice is they get out of prison and go on the dole, claiming benefits, getting back to their old ways or they get a job and actually contribute to society."
Prisons look to create a positive pathway for inmates, says Mr Cooper, while open prisons can use the ROTL scheme to facilitate on the job experience.
He added: "What we have is the opportunity for people to try a career. Some prisoners perhaps haven't had the opportunity to try different careers."
The Government's ex-offender employment website has more details https://offenderemployment.campaign.gov.uk/
Hiring ex-offenders is a positive
One of the main challenges of hiring ex-offenders is the perception that people hold of them, says Stephen Simpson.
But that doesn't worry the business, he added. "We're not here to judge anybody."
Mr Simpson said: "We need to make sure they have got a place to stay. That they have got somewhere where they can have a shower, have a hot meal and come back."
Cidon sells its ex-offender employment as a positive to clients. "Nobody has ever said to us we're not taking you on if you're taking ex-offenders on," Mr Simpson added. "If we had a client who said that then they wouldn't be the right client for us."