EMPLOYERS went behind the scenes at HMP Littlehey’s young offender institution to find out how they can help offenders back into work.

The visit, part of the Prince of Wales's Seeing is Believing scheme, was organised by Business in the Community to promote the Right Step Project, which links employers with prison and probation services to benefit both.

Delegates heard presentations from Danny Spencer, governor of HMP/YOI Littlehey and Nigel Finney, executive director of operations at Luminus, the host of the event last Wednesday (October 5).

Surveys showed that 45 per cent of employers would be discouraged from hiring a skilled worker with a criminal record, yet 17 per cent of the UK working population has one.

The Right Step Project encourages a level playing field for offenders, in the hope that successful engagement reduces the risk of repeat offending.

A scheme to create work opportunities for ex-offenders has already made a difference at Luminus, where the Future Jobs Fund recruited 34 volunteers, many of whom went on to be employed by the company.

Tony Green was one of those to progress to full-time employment, and told of his difficulty in finding work.

"Because of my previous convictions, employers didn't want to know. But Luminus has supported me 100 per cent in everything I do," he said.

"Ex-offenders have more to prove, and if they are going to get on in life then they have got to be given a chance. If you keep closing doors on them then what do you expect to happen? I'm going to work harder to shake off that stigma."

Mr Spencer, who controls the 1,200-capacity prison and YOI, echoed Mr Green's comments, calling employment "the holy grail" in avoiding a return to offending and pledging "transparency and trust" with employers willing to engage in the scheme.

He said: "They are not beyond redemption. But they have got to have some stable employment, something to get them out of bed in the morning."

Employers, including Huntingdonshire District Council, Sue Ryder Care, and the JobCentre, toured the facilities.

They witnessed the morning training workshops that help offenders towards recognised qualifications in bricklaying, IT maintenance, food preparation or music technology.

Businesses can get involved by giving in-prison talks, offering placements, donating funds or equipment, or support and mentoring.

Debbie Longhurst, project officer for Right Step, said: "There are so many ways for companies to get involved, but we are looking at small steps at the moment. If we can find employers willing to take time out, then maybe we can help offenders back into work and make a difference."

INFORMATION: A Cambridgeshire employers' forum will be hosted by Luminus on Wednesday, November 16. To find out more about the Right Step Project call Debbie Longhurst on 01638 663272.