A chance to change – ex-offender’s path from prison to a fulfilling electrical career | ECA

A chance to change – ex-offender’s path from prison to a fulfilling electrical career | ECA

We learn more about one electrician’s path from prison to a fulfilling career.

Last summer, UK unemployment reached its lowest point in nearly 50 years. While generally a success story for the country, this figure does not consider the economy on a sector-by-sector basis. Furthermore, it creates real challenges for businesses who rely on finding people with the right skills, as the pool of suitable and available workers is smaller.

Data from the Electrotechnical Skills Partnership (TESP) shows that the UK will need between 12,500 and 15,000 electricians in the next five years, and this type of shortage is also faced by other business sectors such as retail, recycling, homebuilding and hospitality. However, among a range of initiatives, leading businesses in those sectors are already working with prisons as part of their response – leaving our sector at a competitive disadvantage.

In fact, the electrotechnical industry should be no different – there are a number of workshops operating within prisons where individuals can train to become fully qualified electricians, ready to join the workforce upon release. Many employers say that these people are among the best colleagues in their workforce.

With reportedly 11 million people (one in six) in the UK holding some form of criminal record, businesses are already likely to have employed people who have made mistakes in their past – so it is not such a big leap to consciously look to prisons for people who may be ready and able to be trained and employed.

A fresh start

For Stuart Smith, ECA Vice President and Director of ECA Member firm Stromtechs, the decision to employ an ex-offender was not a conscious one. “It was pure chance,” he says. “Mark (name changed for confidentiality purposes) was introduced to us by a current employee who knew him well and vouched for his strong work ethic.

“During the hiring process, once Mark’s record was disclosed, I will admit that I was concerned we could be dealing with a difficult individual. But that notion was quickly dispelled – and it could not be further from reality.

“I am proud to say we have gained a loyal and hardworking employee who has fitted in with our team very well.”

For Mark, the opportunity to make a fresh start and find a fulfilling career after his incarceration was not guaranteed. “After spending two and a half years inside, I was worried about my future and where I might end up,” he says.

After hearing about an apprenticeship opening at Stromtechs, Mark took some time to examine the benefits of an electrical career, and how it could align with his personal goals.

“I felt that the electrical industry could offer a solid career with great prospects for progression and new knowledge,” he says. “That, and a constantly changing work environment, sounded like something that could hold my interest and focus.”

Making the case

The case for looking to prisons for new electrotechnical industry entrants is already strong. Prisons around the country are increasingly geared up to work with employers, and organisations such as the New Futures Network can guide employers through the process. Set up by the Ministry of Justice, its role is to understand the needs of companies large and small, and make sure the hiring process is as simple and easy as possible.

While Stuart did not meet Mark through the New Futures Network, the organisation aims to make the employment of ex-offenders far more commonplace, rather than happenstance.

When evaluating his job application, the point that stood out for Stuart was Mark’s clear commitment to self-improvement and the drive to succeed, despite the challenging circumstances. “I strongly believe that the best way to break the cycle of reoffending is a chance to change and a clear path to education or vocation,” says Stuart.

“In our industry, which is crying out for labour, giving an ex-prisoner a chance to start again and better their situation was absolutely a no-brainer.”

Now approaching the latter part of his apprenticeship, Mark expects to qualify as an electrical engineer within the next two years.

Stuart adds: “Mark made a mistake and spent his conviction for it. That should not affect the rest of his life. He is 100 percent focused on looking forward and is working incredibly hard to gain new skills. For me, and our colleagues at Stromtechs, the chance to meet and work with Mark has been truly worthwhile.”

Find out more

In its education and employment strategy, published in May 2018, the MoJ outlined its plans for reducing re-offending, which costs the country around £15bn a year. Currently, only 17 per cent of ex-offenders manage to get a job on release, and many of these are part-time or very low-wage roles.

It’s entirely understandable that taking the leap of actively considering and going on to hire an ex-offender may seem daunting at first. While there are clearly a number of factors to consider, experience shows that time and again, these can be addressed successfully.

To learn more about the New Futures Network, click here

Related posts