Employability Skills Framework - improving the work preparedness of people with criminal convictions

Amy McElroy

Senior Adviser - Employer Partnerships, Department of Corrections

Amy has spent the past three years at Corrections, specialising in service design and implementation. Currently, she is developing initiatives to support people with criminal convictions into employment. Employment is a particular area of interest, and prior to Corrections she worked as both a case manager and an analyst at Work and Income.

Key words: Employability skills, Soft skills, Prison Industry Training, Supporting people with criminal convictions


In 2016 the New Zealand Department of Corrections (the Department) introduced an employment service entitled “This Way for Work”. The success of this service challenges the common perception that “people with criminal convictions don’t get jobs”.

After two years of delivery, 2,020 people have been placed into employment and the service has achieved a reduction in the rate of re-conviction of 14.2%[1]. A major driver for these results is support from the business community, who have ensured an ample supply of vacant positions is available for jobseekers in the Department’s care.

With the delivery model successfully established, the Department’s focus has shifted to identifying which parts of the service could be developed to increase success. A particular focus is the supply of suitable job candidates to meet demand – based on the principle of matching jobseeker to role to employer.

In line with this, a key area for development, aimed at lifting supply, is enhancing support to ensure jobseekers are prepared for employment. This was highlighted in an evaluation of the service in July 2017 which identified that where placements were not successfully maintained (approximately a third of placements) it was largely to do with a lack of work preparedness.

Being prepared for employment consists of many elements. For jobseekers with criminal convictions, the Department must first meet their rehabilitative needs. Once these needs are met, their requirements for work preparedness align with those of any other person competing in the labour market. Namely, having a home life that supports work, relevant training and qualifications, and intra and inter-personal skills – commonly referred to as “employability skills” or “soft skills” – which enable successful integration into a workplace.


The Department already offers rehabilitation programmes that address home life needs and help people complete training and qualifications. However, we have an opportunity to offer formal support to people to understand and develop employability skills such as communication skills, self management, problem solving, positive attitude, willingness to learn, thinking skills and resilience.

This is important because experience from the service, reinforced by a significant amount of international evidence, tells us that employers value employability skills just as much as relevant training and qualifications (Gibb, 2004; Cerezo-Narvaez, Ceca, & Blanco, 2018; Bhagra & Sharma, 2018; Robles, 2012; Klaus, 2010; Mitchell, Skinner, & White, 2010) – assuming that the jobseeker’s rehabilitative requirements have been addressed and they have a stable home life.

The project identified that prison is the most appropriate place to start developing employability skills, because:

  • many people in prison either have no work experience, or have been out of the workforce for a long time, so they have the greatest need for support in this space
  • the industry training available in prisons mimics work experience and therefore provides a natural opportunity to embed the development of employability skills. Work experience has been proven as an effective way of developing employability skills (Kamaliah, Roslan, Bakar, & Ghiami, 2018)
  • industry instructors already develop employability skills in their trainees, though it is unplanned and ad-hoc.

Therefore, the project identified that it would be beneficial to establish a way to:

  • formally develop employability skills in prison industries
  • capture acquisition of employability skills in a way which will benefit jobseekers on release from prison.


A pilot Employability Skills Framework was developed. Prison industry instructors are now trialling options for fostering employability skills, and capturing their observations of these skills.

The framework was based on a widely accepted employability skills profile developed by the Pathways Advisory Group in New Zealand. The profile outlines seven employability skills that employers in New Zealand have agreed they are looking for in employees (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Pathways Advisory Group Employability Skills Profile


Understands, and reflects on,  the way they communicate and how it affects others

Asks questions when unsure or unclear

Understands how fellow employees  and employers communicate

Speaks, listens and shares ideas appropriately, seeks feedback


Timeliness: arrives on time

Organisation: arrives with appropriate clothing and equipment to complete a work day

Self awareness: understands, and reflects on, their own words, actions and behaviour, and how these affect others

Follow through: Shows commitment and responsibility; is dependable, follows instructions and completes assigned tasks

Hygiene: Is responsible for their own health and wellbeing

Health and Safety: follows health and safety guidelines in the workplace

Positive attitude

Is positive and has a “can do” attitude

Respect: Is optimistic, honest and shows respect

Enthusiasm: Is happy, friendly and enthusiastic

Self motivation: Is motivated to work hard towards goals


Works well with others to complete tasks and meet goals

Contributes to developing new ideas or approaches

Works well with others of different genders, cultures or beliefs

Recognises the authority of supervisors and managers, and follows directions

Willingness to learn

Willing to learn new tasks, skills and information

Curious and enthusiastic about the training, organisation and industry

Looks for opportunities to work more effectively to make the industry training environment better

Accepts advice and learns from feedback

Thinking skills (problem solving and decision making)

Identifies and assesses options before making a decision.

Recognises problems and uses initiative to find solutions

Thinks about consequences before they act

Recognises when they need to seek advice


Adaptable and flexible in new and changing situations

Handles challenges and setbacks and does not give up

Able to seek support and help when needed

Recognises and accepts mistakes made and learns from them

When a trainee is inducted into prison industry training, the instructor introduces the profile and the employability skills. Conversations about the skills will continue as the trainee progresses, thus generating an understanding of the skills and their importance, alongside the practical components of training.

A completed employability skills profile for each trainee is the aim. The profile will include concrete examples and positive observations of the trainee demonstrating each employability skill during their time in prison industry training.

There are four pilot sites, each of which is trialling a different version of the profile:

  • Version one: examples and observations are recorded against each skill by the trainee, who will then discuss the profile with their instructor to agree the final information that will go in it.
  • Version two: examples and observations are recorded against each skill by instructors who will discuss what they are putting into the profile with the trainee.
  • Version three: examples and observations are recorded by instructors. Instructors also give a rating of work readiness, on a scale from A (unable to rate) to E (excellent) for each employability skill.
  • Version four: as above, but the profile will be included in a document which also outlines the trainee’s learning achievements.

The completed profile will be made available for access by relevant staff to inform referral decisions when a person is approaching release from prison. It will also be available to departmental recruitment consultants who will use the information when recommending jobseekers with criminal convictions to employers.


The main objective of this approach is to increase the work preparedness of jobseekers in the Department’s care. This will boost the supply of suitable jobseekers to meet employer demand, and ultimately lead to more jobseekers finding – and keeping – jobs.

Additional benefits include:

  • enhancing the value of industry training by adding a generic skills outcome which can be applied to any industry that a person may want to go into on release; this is important because there is a limit to what industry training can be offered in prison
  • creating strong connections between training activities in prison and reintegration opportunities in the community
  • giving trainees in prison more confidence in their ability to succeed in a job, especially if they haven’t had one before, or have been in prison for a long time
  • increasing cross-role conversations in prison about employability skills.

Next steps

Training for the framework was completed in early July 2018 and the pilot ran through to late October 2018. It is currently being reviewed to determine how well it was implemented, whether it met the intended outcomes, how responsive it was to differing needs (i.e. age, gender and cultural identification) and how each version worked.

The review will inform the ways the framework could be developed. These could include:

  • creating a formal training package for instructors and other staff for developing employability skills in others, a move which is supported by evidence (Zinser, 2003),
  • implementing a similar framework in the community (e.g. for people serving community work sentences)
  • expanding the framework to include people who can’t access prison industries and/or to other parts of the prison (e.g. expansion to include unit employment and more formal input from other roles in the prison).

Early indications, based on feedback from instructors and trainees, suggest that the framework is a positive tool that will help more people find jobs on release from prison – thus creating safer communities and contributing to reduced re-offending rates.

[1] This is based on The Rehabilitation Quotient (RQ) the Department uses to measure the impact of our rehabilitative programmes. The RQ compares the rates of reconviction and reimprisonment for “treated” offenders (who completed a rehabilitative intervention – in this case the Department’s employment service) with the rates for “untreated” offenders (offenders who are matched based on a range of risk-related factors, but who had no involvement with that specific intervention).


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