The UK Prison Service is to pilot a scheme to train young offenders and prisoners with Cisco networking skills to give them a leg up into work once they are released. The move could also address the industry wide shortage of networking skills.
The groundbreaking scheme, to be piloted at Feltham Young offenders institution and Lewes prison, will use funding from the Treasury to offer young offenders and prisoners access to the Cisco Networking Academy and networking qualifications.
Gordon D'Silva, chief executive of Training for Life, a charity that offers training and support to disadvantaged communities, said he approached Cisco after identifying what he called "a win-win situation" for employers and trainees in the light of a real industry need for network engineers.
"Becoming a network engineer is something you can do that's not dependent on academic qualifications. We target industries where our clients have a very real chance of getting and sustaining a job," he said.
Despite the economic slowdown, the adoption of networking technology is continuing to drive demand for skills to install, maintain and operate the systems. But the networking skills shortage is predicted to exceed 500,000 in western Europe by 2004, according to figures from analyst IDC.
Cisco will offer access to the curriculum, support, and training for teachers within the prisons. Meanwhile the Prison Service is pushing for Treasury funding with a view to rolling the scheme out in institutions across the country.
But D'Silva admitted that education was needed to dispel myths and quash prejudice against ex-offenders.
"We need to persuade companies of the cause-related PR they can get out of involvement in these sorts of projects," he explained. "As a charity we shouldn't say: 'Do us a favour and employ our people'. You have your own methods of recruitment, but do give them a chance and don't use their ex-offender status against them."
Bob Lewis, senior manager of education and learning at Cisco, denied that prospective employers would snub the ex-offenders because of concerns about security.
Neil Barrett, director of security consultancy Information Risk Management, applauded the scheme but warned companies to be conscious of any past convictions, particularly if they related to fraud or computer related offences.
"I would imagine there are very few organisations that do a check to find out if people have spent time in prison or not. Very few look beyond the 'I spent 18 months training to be a Cisco engineer,'" he said.
Training for Life will run similar projects with Cisco for other disadvantaged groups including the homeless and lone parents.
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