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Construction sector could cut prison leaver unemployment with right support

Chartered Institute of Building

4 min read Partner content

A lack of proper training and education opportunities are blocking many people with criminal records from earning a second chance at life within the construction industry, a report from the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has revealed.

The report, Building Opportunity: Employing People with Criminal Convictions in Construction, says individuals with a criminal conviction often do not have access to the right training, qualifications and work experience needed to start their career in the construction industry. It urges the Government to improve access to the opportunities and support necessary for people with criminal convictions to access skilled employment in construction, making the following recommendations for policymakers:

  1. Improve consistency of access to accredited construction qualifications in custody
  2. Adjust skills training in prisons to meet the needs of industry
  3. Aim to increase the number of work experience opportunities through release on temporary license (ROTL)
  4. Address staffing shortages to allow greater time and resource for vocational training in prisons
  5. Provide greater wrap-around support for people leaving custody looking to start work.

Statistics show nearly 70 per cent of people leaving prison are still without work six months after their release. CIOB says breaking down barriers to skilled work would lower unemployment amongst people with criminal convictions, whilst also easing the skills shortage in the construction industry. Meanwhile, the Government estimates the current cost of re-offending is approximately £18 billion per year. 

Skills shortage

Niamh Evans, policy and public affairs officer - North at CIOB, says the Government can do more to make sure motivated people with criminal convictions are provided with the opportunity to increase their employability with the construction sector: “Construction companies across the UK are crying out for more people to join the sector, with a major skills shortage in the industry. Many construction managers say they are open to hiring people with a criminal record if they are a suitable candidate. 

“However, limited access to training, qualifications and work experience for people in prison means there are many people missing out on a vital bridge into the industry. We would like to see more individuals supported to develop their skills to be able to start a rewarding career within construction.” 

“Construction companies that are open to hiring people with criminal convictions need assurance from the Government that prison leavers are getting the wrap-around support they need to be work-ready.”

Education and training in prisons

While there is an education and training offering within the prison service, the level of qualification and training available varies between prisons. The report highlights that overcrowding and under-resourcing of the prison system following a decade of austerity and funding cuts for the prison service in the 2010s has had an impact on the availability and quality of learning opportunities.

Whilst the Government has committed to changes that look to improve employment prospects for prison leavers, there remains much room for improvement. For example, whilst the Government changed the law to enable people in custody to study an apprenticeship in late 2022, only a handful of people in prisons have since started an apprenticeship.

Barriers to starting work

More than 12 million people in the UK currently have a criminal record with hundreds of thousands of convictions remaining unspent – meaning candidates must declare their convictions when applying for a job.  

Individuals leaving prison usually face significant barriers to starting work, including finding accommodation, affording the cost of commuting, and stigma from prospective employers.

Whilst the report highlights that many construction companies would employ job applicants with a criminal record, it also identifies that many still have strong reservations towards hiring such candidates. Almost a third of construction managers surveyed said they would not consider a candidate with an unspent criminal conviction - regardless of the nature of the offence.

Some survey respondents said they would not hire people with criminal convictions due to the lack of trust in an individual’s behaviour, worries about business reputation and concerns over existing employees’ safety, particularly in a high-risk environment like a construction site. 

Andrew Selous MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Penal Affairs, commented: “All the evidence, including in CIOB’s new ‘Employing People with Criminal Convictions in Construction’ report, suggests that employees with unspent convictions normally repay an employer’s vote of confidence in them in spades.”

“As prisons minister, I was also very pleased to see how motivating it is for all the staff of a business to support ex-offender colleagues in their workforce.”

Demand for construction work is likely to increase in the years ahead with significant plans for the regeneration of the built environment in the UK, particularly with the Government’s flagship levelling up agenda and political focus on delivering a faster rate of housebuilding.  Addressing the sectors skills gaps through promoting inclusion can help people that traditionally face barriers to employment find a skilled career.

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