Wednesday Webinar: New Futures Network

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23 February 2021

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At this webinar, Duncan O’Leary, CEO of New Futures Network, talked about his work creating routes to employment for people for when they leave prison. The event was chaired by Julian Stanley, CEO of Bounce Back.

You as an employer, if you do this, can make a really big difference – not just to the individual, but also to their family and the community that they are part of. There’s a ripple effect that comes from giving someone a second chance and opportunity to prove themselves. – Duncan O’Leary, CEO of New Futures Network

New Futures Network (NFN) is a specialist part of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) which brokers partnerships between prisons and employers.

Duncan outlined the three types of partnerships which NFN focusses on brokering and developing for people at different stages of their sentence.

The first focusses on generating work for people in prisons during their sentence. Prison workshops are a source of work for around 11,000 men and women during their sentences, around 4,000 of whom are working on contracts with the Ministry of Justice and other companies and charities, helping people create purpose and build habits.

NFN also works with employers to develop opportunities for people to work outside the prison on Release on Temporary License, or day release (ROTL), which is available to some people in low security prisons towards the end of their sentence.

The final strand of NFN’s work involves creating opportunities for people to enter straight into employment upon release.

A win-win for prisoners and employers

NFN develops these types of partnerships by approaching companies and employers and asking them consider recruiting prison leavers. In these conversations, NFN uses key statistics around the numbers of people in work at the time they were sentenced, and highlights some of the benefits of employing former prisoners. Duncan said:

Lots of the employers we work with say that people actually end up being more committed to them as an employer and often stay with them for longer than their average employee, because there’s a level of loyalty and gratitude from people being offered a second chance.

Employers have the opportunity (outside of Covid) to visit a prison and to meet with other employers who NFN has worked with to provide peer-to-peer learning.

Once employers are on board, roles are advertised internally in the prison. Prison staff then make a judgement about the best-suited prisoners, accounting for practical considerations – including release dates, area of release and documentation – and suitability for the role – such as vocational, personal and social skills and training. The prison creates a shortlist for employers who interview candidates and make the final decision about offering someone a job.

Whilst Coronavirus has meant that many of the in-prison services which NFN usually work with are shut or inaccessible, this hasn’t stopped Duncan and the team from supporting prisoners into work, including through the Going Forward into Employment scheme, a route creating direct entry into the Civil Service.

A holistic approach to progress and employment

Duncan also spoke about the soon-to-be-launched prison accelerator programme, which will involve at least five prisons trialing new ways of working around employment.

A new Employment Lead role will be created in these prisons, giving one person the formal responsibility and ownership of identifying the right candidates for specific roles and thinking holistically about the prison’s employment strategy.

Accelerator prisons will also work on developing ways of tracking the benefits and progress made by prisoners employed in prison workshops. As well as tracking progress towards formal qualifications, it might also mean demonstrating new skills in communication, collaborative team work, punctuality or presentation.

During the second half of the webinar, Duncan responded to questions from the audience, talking about developing links with the third sector, and working with external careers services, and NFN’s broader, five-year vision. We look forward to the launch of their new website and seeing how NFN’s vital work develops in the future.

Listen to the full recording here

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