Agriculture is vital to the nation. Getting food from the field to the table has also become one of the greatest challenges the industry is currently facing, made more difficult through the twin factors of Covid-19 and Brexit.
Many farm jobs cannot be automated. The seasonal harvests are the most labour intensive. It is widely reported that the industry needs 70,000 recruits alone this year to satisfy need.
Picking is extremely hard work. With the reduction in EU workers, who made up a significant portion of the workforce, the industry faces a huge a challenge that impacts on society.
One solution could be to recruit from a section of society that often finds obtaining work difficult – ex-offenders. Every year about 60,000 people are released from prison, most without employment. Unemployment is a proven contributor to re-offending.
In short, farms need a workforce and those leaving custody need jobs!
Household names such as Timpson’s, Greggs and Halfords benefit every day through recruiting ex-offenders. Giving somebody a second chance instils loyalty and commitment. An ex-offender finds work harder to find and so they usually value it more. Many prisons, particularly the category D ‘open prisons’, have areas devoted to horticulture in which prisoners work and train, so ex- offenders often have experience of planting and picking.
The ‘Farming it Out’ campaign is targeted at ex-offenders and enlightened business owners who see the benefit in rehabilitation. However, promoting and recruiting from prisons is not an easy process without the right services and support in place.
To enable sustainable recruitment and selection, ‘Farming it Out’ is a new partnership between New Futures Network, a specialist employment team working within Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and the Oswin Project, a charity working with ex-offenders. This partnership has two clear aims:
- Assist successful rehabilitation for ex-offenders through providing work on release
- Support the national need for farm workers
The partnership will engage with and provide information to farm owners, growers and managers that will enable them to promote their vacancies in prisons. It will also help prison staff to guide and support those who want to work on farms or for the seasonal harvest on release through the application process.
Recruiting an ex-offender is no different than recruiting anyone else, though a potential employer probably has more reliable information about the applicant. They apply, they are interviewed, and the employer selects. It will always be the employer’s choice who works for them.