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13 March 2017

Case study

Wates

Wates’ employment programmes have supported over 500 former offenders to find employment after release from prison.

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Wates has provided support to the criminal justice sector since the 1950s, supporting people, charities, research, and infrastructure projects. When building an extension to HMP Rochester in 2008, Wates was asked to help find jobs for some of the people leaving prison. This paved the way for the Changing Paths Charitable Trust, which was set up in 2010 with the support of ‘Wates Giving’ grant funding from the Wates Family Enterprise Trust. Unique in its approach, Changing Paths helps offenders, ex-offenders, and the long-term unemployed to find skills training and long-term employment. This, alongside Wates’ industry-leading ‘Building Futures’ training programme, forms a huge part of Wates’ commitment to helping people to find the right career path for them, and through Changing Paths and Building Futures they have so far helped to create real, sustainable job opportunities for over 500 people.

Chris Booton, Key Account Director, Wates Construction, and Trustee, Changing Paths:

We have learnt a lot about overcoming the myriad of challenges facing offenders in eight years, and the occasional challenge that we faced with them. These range from the day-to-day frustrations – offenders not being given their travel warrant at the last minute – to the much bigger hurdles – an offender not being allowed to enrol in the local college to complete his apprenticeship, for example. With a bit of persistence we have also learnt about the many great benefits to us and to the people we work with.

The support we give works best when we match offenders with jobs in our supply chain, which also helps companies in the industry who are looking for good quality staff and facing a skills shortage. We talk to the ex-offenders and find out what they’re interested in, and then we speak to our networks to find an opportunity. We work with the candidate to update their CV and prepare for interview, all to give them the best chance we can.

When Simon told us that he wanted to be an architect, we discussed with him what this would involve: the skills he would need, the long hours of study, the years at university, and the low pay while training. We spoke to an architect designing the prisons we were working on and he was willing to give Simon an interview, and then offered him four weeks of work experience. Both he and I believed that the opportunity wasn’t right for Simon and that he would realise this for himself, but he proved us all wrong. He impressed the firm so much that they offered him a salaried position on a training programme and sponsored him through university. He is now in his third year, well on the way to achieving his dream, and is a valued member of the firm.

We meet a diverse group of people and we aim to treat them all as individuals. Construction may not be the right fit for everyone, so we do what we can to help them find what they’re interested in, and give them the best chance we can, whether that’s by helping them get work-ready with CVs and interview prep or just believing in them and encouraging them to kick-start their lives again.

Mark needed this encouragement when we met him – he had never had a job before and had very low self-esteem. He wanted to support his girlfriend and daughter. We helped him find a job with one of our subcontractors in Kent, where he helped out with a mix of things, from general labouring to working as a plumber’s mate. His employers have told us how pleased they are with his attitude and timekeeping, and he has become a valued member of the company. Without this opportunity Mark would have been at risk of reoffending and returning to prison, but now he says work has given him purpose and he really enjoys doing a day’s work and earning a day’s pay.

We encourage all employers to consider employing offenders. There are some extremely talented people locked up in our prisons, and the process means that you often get to know them better than you would through a conventional interview process. Some will be changing professions, and some have never been given an opportunity in their lives. Just like us they are all different, and it’s just a case of finding the right match for your business.

I won’t pretend there aren’t challenges to overcome, but don’t be put off – restrictions and bureaucracy might seem problematic but in reality they are simple to deal with, and shouldn’t get in the way of giving someone an opportunity. The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks – we have found that offenders make the most loyal employees, and they work hard to show their gratitude for the opportunity. 

Wates’ engagement with Changing Paths is supporting by Wates Giving, a charitable programme set up by the Wates Family, which makes over 250 grants worth around £1m a year to charities and community groups.

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