Willmott Dixon partners with materials firm to upskill prisoners

Willmott Dixon has partnered with materials manufacturer Etex to upskill prisoners at HMP Cardiff.

The training programme will give HMP Cardiff inmates the chance to learn how to install plasterboard.

The course is designed to provide learners with the most up-to-date industry knowledge and best practices, and is an update from a previous programme run by the prison whereby participants practised on chimney breasts.

The prison has replaced the chimney breasts with OSB boards for prisoners to fit plasterboard and develop their skills.

Etex and Willmott Dixon have also helped to create an open space, designed to mirror a real-life construction site, with individual workbenches for each participant and a canteen area including colour-coded drylining spec plans on the walls. To further help the course align with real-world practices, the trainers of the course attended Willmott Dixon building sites to witness how the products and techniques worked on the job.

To support participants into employment post-release, Etex has created a certification that each person will receive once they have completed the programme, while Wilmott Dixon has been working in conjunction with dryline installation businesses to encourage them to hire course participants once they leave prison.

The head of the course at HMP Cardiff, David Standing, said: “We feel passionate about introducing this programme to the prison system to help prisoners gain real knowledge that will benefit them once they re-enter the world. It’s a really unique and exciting course that will no doubt make a difference to the lives of those who complete it, and we couldn’t have done it without the help of Etex and Willmott Dixon.

“The materials and training they’ve provided have been completely invaluable for both the prisoners and course leaders, and we have been able to create an industry-standard training course and area within the prison like no other. It has been proven that the best way to reduce reoffending rates is to reform prisoners, and we look forward to seeing the success of those who complete our course once they leave prison.”

Etex area commercial manager Jeff Fry said: “When we heard HMP Cardiff needed support in creating a drywalling training programme that met the standards of the industry, we were more than happy to help. With the sector struggling to recruit and retain workers, it is important to educate those who have never had the chance to learn these skills before, while also providing them with an opportunity to improve their future and start a really rewarding career.”

With the construction industry currently facing a huge shortage of skills and an ageing workforce, the programme will also help to create a new pipeline of potential construction professionals.

A white paper released by the Ministry of Justice in December 2021 outlined plans to provide prisoners with better educational opportunities, including vocational qualifications, with construction named as one field in which they could be trained.

Last month, the chief executive of construction giant J Murphy & Sons chaired a meeting of an employment advisory board at HMP Berwyn in North Wales. Such boards will be in place in all 91 resettlement prisons in England and Wales by April 2023, under plans backed by ministers.

In 2018, Construction News visited HMP Brixton to learn more about efforts to create employment skills among prisoners.

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