Prison goes into labour market
“Prison labour” conjures up images of convicts in striped uniforms breaking rocks beneath the blazing sun. But in the 21st century, UK prisoners are more likely to be working in high-specification facilities rewiring fuse boards, building archways and plumbing sinks.
"Prison labour" conjures up images of convicts in striped uniforms breaking rocks beneath the blazing sun.
But in the 21st century, UK prisoners are more likely to be working in high-specification facilities rewiring fuse boards, building archways and plumbing sinks.
HMP Wayland at Griston, near Watton, yesterday revealed that from next February it will become a national hub for prison labour, supplying big business with skilled workers from jails across the UK.
Industry bosses welcomed the scheme, saying it would help plug the growing labour shortfall in the UK, particularly ahead of the London 2012 Olympics.
The programme is the dream of 22-year-old Wayland inmate Martin Dunne who wanted to help prisoners stay on the straight and narrow after their release.
A quick tour of Wayland's vast industrial workshops shows the breadth of skills taught in prisons, spanning electrics, plumbing, building, welding, and painting and decorating.
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The half plumbed-in cisterns, wet cement on the bricks and freshly papered walls are the only clues to the daily hive of activity, with inmates working six hours every weekday.
In Wayland alone, prisoners with no trade experience leave its training schemes with NVQs, City and Guilds and Health and Safety qualifications in major trades - resulting in about 95pc employment.
Matt Page, project manager with the Foundation Training Company which will help run the project, said: "This is the first time this has been done in the UK.
"The idea is that HMP Wayland will become a central referral hub, so if a company says they need two bricklayers and an engineer, for example, we will look across the whole prison estate and supply them with people with the right skills.
"We want to bridge that gap between prisons and companies and make it easy for them to find the person they need."
Mick Wright, training officer with Peterborough-based construction company Barhale, said: "This seems like a really good opportunity. There obviously is a lack of skilled labour in construction and we have got the 2012 Olympics coming up."
Andrew Newstead, Wayland prison governor, said they wanted companies to tell them what skills they needed to allow them to tailor training to industry demand.
Philippa Kirk, from Norfolk Probation Service, said a steady job was key to ex-convicts keeping straight. Seventy-eight prisoners were found jobs last year but, she said, there was still reluctance among employers to take on ex-offenders.
The scheme has already won £35,000 from the Prince's Trust and is applying for another £40,000 from Lloyds TSB, with the hope it could win government backing if it proves successful.