According to the latest Government statistics, the prison population of England & Wales is just short of 86,000. Amongst the many factors contributing to this high number is the rate of prisoner reoffending which, according to recent figures, stands at 26%. Although not all reoffenders are given a custodial sentence, a good many are, and so clearly a reoffending rate of more than a quarter of prisoners is a big problem.
Amongst the many solutions proposed to tackle the problem of reoffending is Offender-Learning. According to the Skills Funding Agency, the purpose of Offender-Learning is to “…allow offenders in custody, according to need, to receive education and training. This in turn enables them to gain the skills and qualifications they need to get sustainable employment and have a positive role in society.”
One of the organisations that is investing a lot of time and effort into tackling this issue is Milton Keynes College (MKC). The College has been involved in Offender-Learning for more than 20 years, and is currently one of the largest providers in the country, with contracts in 30 prisons across the Midlands and South Central regions. According to Sue Snoxell, MKC’s Innovation & Development Co-Ordinator (Offender Learning), the College’s aim is quite simple:
However, the aim of equipping offenders with skills to make them employable gives rise to a number of questions: What skills should offenders actually learn? Are they being trained in skills that employers actually need? How can we be sure that they are getting the right skills to make them more employable when they are released?
For MKC, these questions are extremely pertinent, especially since the Government’s Review of Offender Learning in 2011, which called for, amongst other things, training to be linked to “specific demand within the broader labour market.” In other words, the aim is not merely to give offenders skills which may or may not be useful, but rather to do everything possible to ensure that offenders are given the skills that are really needed in the economy, so as to greatly improve their chances of gaining sustainable employment.
Using Data for a Targeted Approach
One part of the College’s attempts to meet this criteria has been to utilise data contained in EMSI’s Analyst tool. Analyst enables users to see which industries are growing or declining in a particular area, and even more crucially, to see which occupations within those industries are growing or declining. For MKC this is priceless information since it gives them a window on the skills needs of businesses in the area in which a prison is located, which in turn enables them to tailor their training towards the skills that are most needed in the local and regional economy.
A good example of this is in the in the area of Catering & Hospitality. According to Sue:
“When we drill down into Restaurants and mobile food activities, for instance, we can see which occupations within the sector are set to grow and so which skills are needed. We can then shape our hospitality and catering training more closely to meet the needs of the sector within the local economy.”
This targeted approach is clearly beneficial to all parties concerned: the College can match training with skills requirements; offenders receive training which is more likely to lead to employment; and employers benefit from a talent pool of workers trained in the skills they need.
Another use of the data is in the area of employer engagement. Having identified the skills needs of local businesses, MKC then identifies the employers in these sectors, forging partnerships with many of them. One of the major benefits this brings, according to Sue, is that employers can then really work together with the prison to ensure that offenders aren’t just left with vague possibilities after they leave, but with far more tangible opportunities:
“Most of the employers will give a guaranteed interview scheme, which means that along with the training we give, the prisoners also get a grounding in the employers’ own agenda.”
Individual, Social and Economic Benefits
For many, Offender-Learning might be seen mainly in terms of potential social benefits. However, as Sue explains, the targeted, data-driven approach has a great economic as well as social value:
“We are producing data to enable us to make decisions that are focused and target-driven. And so not only is this a social responsibility, but also an economic decision. We are not involved in this just to be seen to be doing good, but also to improve the local economy.”
We are pleased that our data is helping MKC train offenders in the skills they need to gain employment, to the benefit of individuals, society and the economy.
If you would like to find out more, contact Andy Durman at firstname.lastname@example.org