Corrections recruitment service helps fill skills shortage

Published: Wed 28 Feb 2018 03:43 PM
Corrections recruitment service helps fill skills shortage, offers hope
Video: From prison to employment
A skills shortage and a sense of social responsibility is helping to persuade more employers to take on former offenders.
More than 900 people with criminal convictions have been placed into work through Corrections’ dedicated employment recruitment pilot programme which began operating in late 2016.
Across the country, Corrections’ offender recruitment consultants work with offenders, either just out of prison or serving sentences in the community, matching them with employers willing to give them stable employment.
In the 15 months the $2.5 million two-year This Way to Work pilot has been up and running, 904 participants have been supported into employment – 343 former prisoners, 548 offenders serving sentences in the community and 13 offenders returned from overseas.
Stephen Cunningham, Corrections’ director offender employment and reintegration, is proud of the offender recruitment team that has placed an average of 60 people a month into jobs.
“These are incredibly passionate people who go above and beyond to seek out employers, encourage them to take on offenders, and assist those offenders into jobs,” he says.
But it’s not just a matter of getting employers on board. The offender recruitment consultants also have to ensure the people they put forward for interviews are work-ready and suitable for the roles on offer, smoothing the path for both employers and employees and helping offenders remain on the right track so they can maintain their jobs.
“For some of these people, it is the first time they have held down a job. They can receive training and education in prison that qualifies them for the role but there are often other issues going on in their lives once they get out,” Cunningham says.
“Offenders have to deal with reconnecting with their families, rejoining their communities – they may be dealing with tension at home or pressure from old associates. Our recruitment consultants act as advocates and often a sounding board.”
There are occasions when the placements don’t work out, for a variety of reasons, and they start the process again. But Cunningham says around 70 per cent of placements remain in their jobs after three months. “This is a figure we are working hard to raise by understanding what the barriers are to sustainable employment,” he says.
The pilot includes a fund to help employees overcome some of those barriers to employment. So far 156 applications for funding, totalling around $119,000, have been granted for tools and equipment, work clothing and training.
“We are only just over halfway through this pilot, but early indications are that keeping and maintaining stable employment is reducing reoffending for offenders who have been assisted,” Cunningham says.
Corrections has been proactively seeking out businesses who will commit to taking former offenders as employees.
So far close to 160 memorandums of understanding have been signed with large and small businesses pledging more than 1500 jobs.
“We have gained significant momentum over the past two years to identify new employers willing to work with us to provide sustainable employment opportunities for offenders both before and after release,” Mr Cunningham says.
“Working with employers gives offenders greater access to jobs and offers employers a reliable, motivated and productive workforce. They know upfront who they are getting and they know they have support from Corrections.”
One such employer is Waste Management, which became Corrections’ 100th employer partner last year.
Waste Management managing director Tom Nickels says the company wanted to play its part in making communities safer and giving people a fresh start in life.
“Waste Management can offer long-term employment opportunities all over New Zealand, We can help with further training opportunities and support to help people gain their truck driver’s licence. We are seeing motivated candidates coming through the programme and becoming part of our team,” he says.
“It started with our head of HR, Sharon Scott, coming to me and talking to me about the possibilities. We’ve got a number of skills gaps in our company that we’re continually finding it harder to recruit for, and she said ‘well, this might be an opportunity’. As we got talking, it just felt right. For me, it just seems like the sort of thing big companies should do. As New
Zealanders, if we want the sort of society we do, it’s our job to do something about that.
“If you think about the people who are coming out of prisons, if we as a society do not give them an opportunity, what other option have they realistically got? So it was coming out of two points probably. One was that we have skills gaps that we are continually finding hard to recruit for and, as a member of society, we’ve got a role to play in creating the society we want.”
Ben Po Ching of B Builders describes the process as “just another avenue where we can tap into another pool of resource of people who had skills already”.
“I don’t judge them in terms of their character, it’s just the skills that I need. As long as they can swing the hammer or carry out a task that’s given to them, I don’t really care what they’ve done in the past. Some of the guys, they need to be given another chance. They’re good people. If this can be used as part of their rehabilitation then I’m all for it.”
Tom Compton, general manager of heavy haulage company CV Compton, is grateful he’s in a position to offer former offenders an opportunity he says most people wouldn’t even consider.
“We’ve got, as do most companies, a question in our job application which says ‘do you have any convictions’. As soon as a company sees a yes, they’ll bin the application but when I see yes, it’s like an attraction for me and I feel compelled to dig a bit deeper and see where we can get these guys to fit in.
“I just think it’s such a fantastic thing that we’re doing, giving these boys an opportunity. They’re not all ratbags … the majority of them do want to improve. It is definitely a social morality thing. I’m grateful that I can do it.”
Belinda Ritchie, operations manager of Ritchies Transport, says: “A lot of people, I suppose, look at them and go ‘we’re not going to take you on’. But we’re a big, big believer in giving them a second chance.
“It’s worked out very well. Obviously we can open the door. If they want to reoffend that’s down to them but the ones that we have taken on haven’t reoffended.”
The employers are enthusiastic when describing the positive changes they have observed in the workers they have employed through Corrections.
“It’s amazing to see them change, to see them getting their lives back on track, getting the children back, getting a stable home life, having money to spend on things,” says Annette De Wet, resource manager of ICB Retaining and Construction.
“You actually see them physically change. In addition, they are tremendously loyal because of us giving them the opportunity and giving them support. They know we really care about them.”
Nickels says: “We can do things sometimes that can change the rest of people’s lives and this is an example of that. It provides very positive feedback not only for our company but for those individuals involved. At a personal level it gives you a really warm feeling that you’re doing something beneficial here, you’re helping somebody.”
Ritchie says the company has recently, for the first time, hired female former offenders. Two women have begun work with the company in the past few months. “They are both working out very, very well. Their lives are turning around. They’re really happy, they enjoy coming to work. We’re like a big family here,” she says.
As well as This Way to Work, Corrections runs an Employment Support Service.
It is a community-based service, available to both newly released prisoners or offenders on a community sentence requiring a high level of support into employment. Last year 232 people were placed into employment and supported for six months through this service, which is contracted to community providers.
“It’s fantastic to see these programmes making a real difference and helping offenders get successfully placed into employment,” says Cunningham.
“Our aim is to ensure all people managed by Corrections are provided with clear and effective support to become work-ready and/or attain sustainable and meaningful employment before they are released from prison, and while in the community, ultimately reducing their likelihood of reoffending.”
By the numbers
TWTW placements to date
260Central103Lower North199Southern329Returning offenders13Total904
Case studies
Jennifer* recently began working with Ritchies as a cleaner. She is a mother and grandmother, which motivated her further to get into work and resume her former life following her prison term.
“My crime was very silly … I went away for that and I just knew that I was going to turn that sentence into a positive. I got qualifications that I was able to use when I came home … and I got my forklift licence. I did a full rehabilitation programme and I learned about behaviours that I had and had lived with not realising they were really choices and I could have made better choices.
“That’s what it’s about now, assessing my situation, reassessing, moving forward and looking at the pros and cons and not just jumping in and doing it just because I think that’s what I should do but because I’ve weighed it all up and I can see where it’s going to go or not going to go. It’s been awesome.
Having a job has enabled Jennifer to “fit back into that slot of being mum, of being a positive member of society. It took away that shadow, that stigma of you’ve been to prison, no one’s going to give you a job so just go home, rely on a benefit … and I knew I was not going to do that. I know my family deserves better than that. I knew I’d worked hard enough to achieve better than that so I did”.
David*, a former white-collar worker, is employed by Waste Management as a heavy machinery operator following a stint in Auckland South Corrections Facility.
“The eight to 10 weeks when I came out of prison – you come out, you’re on a bit of a high, you’ve got parole, but very quickly you realise sitting at home and doing nothing and living on a benefit is just a waste of time and is demoralising. For about eight to 10 weeks it was a miserable time in my life. Everybody is keen to read your CV, they’re keen to interview and then up comes the criminal activity and history and you can almost see them glaze over.
“I said to [Corrections] ‘if you can open the door to a few companies who are not averse I can get a job, I can guarantee. I’m not fussy I will take what I can do and what’s available’. A day later I had an interview with Waste Management and two other companies and Waste Management offered me the job when I interviewed with them three days later. Honestly, it was just a breath of fresh air. When I first started here and had my first week, it was like being reborn.”
*Not their real names

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