One of the main pledges in the Government’s recent Prison Safety and Reform White Paper (which FE News reported on here), is to give greater empowerment to prison governors, putting them “at the centre of all services in prison by devolving budgets and control, and providing them with the levers they need to hold other providers to account.” Amongst other things, this will include giving them greater authority over their prison’s education provision, so that it might be shaped to better align with local needs. Point 38, for instance, states that the reforms are intended to:
- Give governors authority to do their own workforce planning and decide what structures best meet their local needs
- Give governors greater power over service provision in their prison, devolving control over education, work, family ties, offender behaviour and resettlement programmes, and greater influence over healthcare provision
Local Needs Are Currently Not Being Met
One of the reasons for this change is the hope that giving governors more authority over the education in their prison will enable them to adopt a skills provision that is more in tune with labour market needs. Although what is currently learnt by prisoners is praised as being “valuable experience of basic employability requirements,” the paper goes on to say that:
“…too much of the work and training we provide in prisons is outdated in today’s economy and does not meet local labour needs.”
The solution to this problem, according to the report, is for:
“A fundamental shift in approach so we are focused on preparing offenders for future employment in modern jobs. We need to provide prisoners with skills for which there is a real demand from employers.”
Meeting Local Employer Demand
Devolving authority should, in theory, enable better engagement with what is really needed in each local area. According to the paper:
“We want all of our prisons to follow suit to equip prisoners with skills that they can put to use to enter the labour market, whatever it looks like when and wherever they are released. Giving governors greater autonomy over decisions made in prisons will allow them to target training and work in prisons to match more closely the needs of the local labour market.”
This has two major implications. For governors, it means that they will have both the autonomy and the opportunity to align skills learnt in their prison with labour market demand. The incentive for this is that the more they can help people leave prisons with skills that are needed, the greater the chance of them finding employment, which in turn could well lead to lower rates of offending.
But it also means that organisations that are currently providing educational services to prisons, and those who might look to in the future as the market is opened up, will also have a big incentive to show that their proposed offer meets local labour market demand.
Local Data Will be Key
One thing we can say with certainty, therefore, is that local labour market insight will have a crucial part to play. The report confirms this when it says:
“Governors will be encouraged to work with local employers and use data on the local labour market gaps to choose the right vocational training to help offenders into employment…”
The key word here is local. The majority of prisoners finish their sentences in a prison close to their home, and so if they are to have the optimum chance of finding employment, the prison needs to be aware of the labour market needs at that granular, local level. Data which is granular enough to delve down into the particulars of the local area, and which can identify specific occupational demand at that level, will therefore be key.
This approach is not merely theoretical. We are currently partnering with one provider – Milton Keynes College – to provide them with exactly this type of localised, granular data, which they are using in the prisons they are involved in to align their provision with local needs, and also as a means of facilitating better employer engagement. You can read more about this in our case study here.
According to Prison Reform and Safety, many are leaving the system with the wrong skills, making it less likely that they will find paid employment, which, statistically speaking, increases the chances of them reoffending. The greater autonomy proposed for prison governors, combined with call for education provision to be better mapped to local employment demand, could make a big difference in terms of making prisoners more objectively employable. However, in order to achieve this, granular labour market insight will be key, functioning as a common language between the prison, the education provider, plus other key, local agencies, and enabling them to work together to ensure that the skills that are taught are the skills that are really needed.