A GOLDEN opportunity to take on a whole new sector of workers is up for grabs in the North East, a conference in Hartlepool has heard.
And all it will take for it to work, is for companies to accept the skills base among offenders and ex-offenders.
That was the message which emerged from the Hartlepool Business Forum-organised conference at Hartlepool College of Further Education.
Seventy delegates attended the event called A Chance 4 Change - Exploding the Myths of Employing Ex-Offenders.
Forum co-ordinator Andrew Steel said: “Hopefully, we can get people moved into employment and we are doing our best to encourage people to engage. We want people to realise there is a rich seam of skilled people in prisons. They are job-ready and desperate for work.”
James Ramsbotham, the chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “The North East is not a problem for the rest of the country to solve. It is an asset to utilise.
“There are a number of things that we need to do to make the best use of all the resources. Our offender community is one of those.”
Mr Ramsbotham said there was evidence that some companies which had outsourced work to countries such as India and China were now starting to re-think, and to realise that keeping work closer to home could be cheaper and would mean more money could be invested in training.
Dr Sheena Maberly, the head of learning of the southern cluster of skills and learning in North East Prisons, said intensive work was being done in prisons but it was not always a straightforward task to re-train offenders.
She said: “Many offenders have a complex range of needs. Many have never lived a settled life and never had a legal income stream. We are asking them to turn their world upside down and we must not underestimate the challenge.”
But she said an employability strategy was in place in prisons and improving employability among people in prisons was at the heart of that.
Debbie Young, the regional director of the justice sector at Manchester College, said there were success stories and 7,500 learners in prisons had successfully completed 40,000 learning tasks in areas such as barbering, car valeting, catering and hospitality, and hair and beauty.
And Darush Dodds, the manager of the Chance for Change programme at Deerbolt, said: “We want to break the cycle of re-offending. While we are in the prison, we like to provide a positive role model and mentoring.”