Scaling skills and employment opportunities to reduce reoffending

City & Guilds was delighted to host our event, ‘Scaling skills and employment opportunities to reduce reoffending’ at HMP Highpoint recently.

03 April 2024

HMP Highpoint event imageTogether, HMP Highpoint and City & Guilds are committed to developing individuals that face significant barriers to succeed, helping them develop the skills they need to grow and reduce the rate of re-offending with secure and sustained employment as the end goal.

Our event celebrated our partnership between City & Guilds and HMP Highpoint and the forward-thinking organisations who are investing in prison learner futures. As part of the event we also launched our brand-new electrical workshop – the next step in our partnership with HMP Highpoint.

The event was opened by HMP Highpoint governor Nigel Smith who said how proud he was of the relationship and partnership with City & Guilds. 

He spoke of how the rail track in place at HMP Highpoint has provided prisoners with hope and said he is confident this partnership will continue. He did however say that this wouldn’t be possible without the help of employers and he thanked those who had been involved so far.

Speaking of the impact of the partnership, Nigel noted that in the last 18 months 10 rail track courses have been completed, with 94 learners successfully graduating from the course. 69 learners have been released into the community, 47 into employment in the rail industry and a further 5 into employment in other sectors – where they all remain today. This is a success rate of 75% and Nigel noted that this work with City & Guilds is changing, and in some cases saving prisoners at HMP Highpoint.  

Following the introduction from Nigel, City & Guilds CEO Kirstie Donnelly welcomed guests to the event, noting how proud she was to be there because the partnership with HMP Highpoint enables skills to change lives.

HMP Highpoint event imageKirstie noted that from our own investment we see around £18 back in social and economic returns for every £1 we put in and we know that is because people are getting jobs and staying in jobs.

Commenting on City & Guilds’ work with HMP Highpoint she said they were brave to take a step in this direction as they saw the difference that interventions such as this can make. As City & Guilds we are there to innovate, support and find creative ways to make this a reality, and Kirstie noted her happiness at being joined in support for the work from the DfE’s Skills Bootcamps.

Commenting on the opening of the electrical workshop, she said this is the next step in our collective endeavour and noted City & Guilds’ desire to go further and see the blueprint created with HMP Highpoint emulated in prisons around the country to further reduce reoffending. 

Following on from the speeches was an insightful and informative panel discussion between employers and past and present prison learners around building inclusive and equitable workforces to support prisoner rehabilitation. Hearing the lived experiences of learners from the Highpoint programme who are now thriving in their employment, and the benefits they bring to their employers, really does show the power of skills development.

The panel was chaired by City & Guilds CEO Kirstie Donnelly who was in discussion with:

  • Simon Cartwright, Prison Group Director Hertfordshire, Essex and Suffolk
  • Alex Pond, Executive Director, City & Guilds Training
  • Othman Karim, Vital employee and learner from the Highpoint programme
  • John Cheeseman, Managing Director at CRS 
  • Paul, a CRS employee and learner from the Highpoint programme 
  • Dwayne Williams, City & Guilds Trainer

HMP Highpoint event imageOpening up the discussion and speaking from the perspective of the justice system, Simon Cartwright noted the importance of accommodation and jobs for those who leave prison. Speaking about the partnership at HMP Highpoint, Simon noted that a centre of excellence has truly been created, but we need to be brave enough now for employers to reach out and offer places for offenders to see this impact scale up.

Speaking on the perspective of his work at City & Guilds Training, Alex Pond noted that there is a need for both industry and employers to buy into this work in the long-term. He praised the involvement of the DfE who have been instrumental in providing funding and said this partnership wouldn’t have been as impactful without it. Adding to this, he said there also needs to be a member of the team in the prison who can champion and push this work forward.

Alex also spoke of the enthusiasm of the prisoners who have been involved in the programme so far. He cited the example of one prisoner who was due out the day the event was taking place, but who had decided to remain in prison for an additional day so that he could complete all of his required training. 

Kirstie then introduced John Cheeseman from CRS, an employer in the sector who has been involved in the programme from the start noted how for his organisation, it’s an additional talent platform, which at the same time as giving opportunities also reduces reoffending. Adding to this he said ‘it’s great for business, great for CSR and great for clients.

Commenting on how CRS has been involved in the programme from the start, he added that he and his organisation remain committed to the programme and will continue to be involved moving forward.  

Having heard the insights of those who have helped drive the programme forward, Kirstie then brought in some of the individuals who have been through or are currently still in HMP Highpoint being trained through the programme. 
HMP Highpoint event imageDwayne, who himself is now a City & Guilds Rail trainer spoke of his time in prison, but who gained experience in the rail sector making his way up to becoming a supervisor before becoming a trainer. He has also, outside of this work, set up a CIC to help others who are experiencing similar circumstances to those he did.

Othman spent 3.5 years in HMP Highpoint, but noted his desire to give the training programme a go and to see where it would take him. Through this, he saw that this was something he could do, went on to pass the course, got a job and said he has ‘never looked back’. Commenting on life since he left HMP Highpoint in October 2023, he said he has received so much support.

Finally, Kirstie spoke to Paul, who has been in HMP Highpoint since 2021. Speaking of when he arrived, he said he had ‘no end game, and nothing to look forward to’. Since becoming involved in the rail training programme he has mentored others who have since started on the course and he sees the value in helping people build a career and having something to work towards. Paul said he has ‘big dreams’ and is hoping to continue working in the rail industry and carrying on with his teaching upon release.

Reflecting on the discussion with current and ex prisoners from HMP Highpoint Simon noted that the development of centres of excellence is key and although at the beginning the partnership might have seemed like a ‘logistical nightmare’, it’s not if you work through it, and advised ‘start small and watch it grow.’

Speaking of the role of employers, John said he did not think it was unreasonable to ask employers to invest in this work.

Concluding the panel discussion, Kirstie asked what Dwayne, Othman and Paul’s one message would be if they had a magic wand. Paul said ‘Believe people can change as you might have a diamond in the dirt.’ Othman advised, ‘invest, give all that you can as there are people who really want this.’ Giving the final word of the session Dwayne said ‘if we all want a better society, we need to be the change we all want to see.’ 
Concluding the panel discussion, Kirstie thanked participants before handing over to Andy Moss, City & Guilds Chief Customer Officer and Chair of HMP Highpoint Employer Advisory Board for his reflections.

HMP Highpoint event imageAndy spoke of how throughout the day there was one word though that he kept returning to, and that’s ‘hope’ - the life-changing role that skills play in helping people of all backgrounds, people from all walks of life, to secure that next step on the ladder – to build a better future for themselves and those around them. He also said how delighted he was to see the new electrical workshop officially open, and how he’s looking forward to seeing the impact that this will have as new learners are welcomed there in the near future.

Following this, event attendees then went to see the official opening of the new electrical facilities before the event came to an end.

For a look at our partnership in action, watch this video: