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CGI signs up to prison leaver employment initiative

IT supplier is working with training company specialised in helping prison leavers to find recruitment in the tech sector

CGI joins KPMG and Amazon in helping deliver a programme of IT and business training to support prison leavers attempting to join the workforce.

The IT service provider is working with Breakthrough, which offers apprenticeships to people leaving prison to help them overcome barriers when seeking employment.

As part of this, CGI is supporting an eight-week course that helps equip participants with workplace skills. Similarly, KPMG and Amazon already provide volunteers that support with technical training.

According to Breakthrough, prison leavers who find employment are half as likely to reoffend as their unemployed peers, but only 16% of leavers are employed within 12-months.

The organisation selects and trains people in prison or those leaving who want to build careers in technology. As well as providing access to training, it supports people during recruitment and helps to find potential employers.

Dee Norval, who founded Breakthrough in 2019, said Breakthrough’s role continues after a graduate gets a job with another two years “bespoke support” while they are in work. The training is mainly around IT jobs and roles that are digitally enabled, including HR and other corporate activities.

“It is difficult for many prison leavers to get into the workforce, often because they have been in prison a long time and don’t have a people network or the skills needed to get into a job,” said Norval. “There are also barriers due to negative public perception and prison leavers being ruled out by employers because they have criminal convictions.”

By the end of this month, around 60 people would have been through the Breakthrough programme, which is split into phases.

The initial programme phase sees participants trained for eight weeks, followed by a transition phase when people apply for jobs which usually lasts up to four weeks, followed by the career phase which supports people who are in a job.

Norval has a background in management consulting with a broad range of skills. “My skills are not specifically technical, but I have managed a lot of technology programmes. We work with partners such as Amazon and KPMG to deliver the technical training and my team is there to support the associates to apply that.”

The skills being taught include soft skills required for almost any employment, such as teamworking, conflict management and problem solving. Then there is confidence building to help prison leavers overcome imposter syndrome, which is “one of the biggest hurdles” to getting prison leavers into work, according to Norval.

Technical skills being taught include project management, product management, software development and data analysis. “It’s about testing for aptitude and getting people interested. You can see in a week who enjoys certain areas and who has an aptitude for it,” she added.

Most participants in the breakthrough programme have never worked in an office or had IT training. Most left school before doing GCSE’s. “It’s about aptitude and hunger,” said Norval.

The roster of employers working with Breakthrough includes professional services firms, engineering companies, hospitality businesses and organisations in the construction sector, which are all looking for entry-level employees to work in their headquarters. Small employers are also recruiting through the programme.

The relationship between Breakthrough and CGI came after an employee of the latter saw an article written by Norval and shared it with the CGI management, who decided to get involved.

Russell Goodenough, who is responsible for at CGIs business in the UK justice sector, said that the company had been encouraging staff to push forward their own ideas to promote corporate social responsibility.

“A member of staff noted the request for help in the article and thought our two organisations could work together. I encouraged them to find avenues to help Breakthrough,” added Goodenough.

CGI has offered skills training with business mentoring, helping with non-technical skills such as those needed for presentations and interviews. “We have run mock interviews so they can understand what it would be like to work with a prospective employer,” said Goodenough. CGI has also helped people gain confidence by experiencing exercises in its locations so they can get an experience of an office environment.

It has also done coaching and training where its staff give “day in the life” presentations – Goodenough said tech experts have played a part with cyber security specialists, application services staff and testers, as well as project managers running sessions.

He hopes that CGI will eventually take some of the breakthrough graduates on, adding: “We haven’t done so yet, but I hope we will identify strong candidates.”

Ahmed Otun is a success story of the programme. Having finished serving his sentence in Wandsworth prison, he began work as a cleaner. He saved up to join courses teaching tech skills, but although they expanded his knowledge, they didn’t result in employment.

He joined the Breakthrough programme, and after graduating in January 2022, he started an apprenticeship with tech startup Make Time Count after just a week. Since then, he has been promoted to testing lead. He recently visited family in Nigeria and got engaged.

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