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WA companies grappling with labour shortages to tap into former inmates

WA companies are urged to actively tap into the cohort of former prisoners to grapple with labour shortages because they bring with them more motivation and a high level of reliability.

That is the experience of Dunsborough-based Anthony MacShane, founder of recruitment company MACFORCE Australia, and Ben Webb, justice operations manager at Waalitj Foundation.

“We go looking everywhere for labour but there is a cohort of people sitting right in front of us who are really keen on working and just need companies to assist with some training and opportunity,” Mr MacShane said.

“We’ve found that (former prisoners) are willing to prove that they are reliable and have made changes, both personally for themselves and towards their family.”

Over the past four years, MACFORCE has placed more than 130 former inmates from prisons such as Bandyup Women’s Prison, Casuarina and Acacia Prison into employment across the WA resources and construction sectors.

Mr Webb and Mr MacShane agreed many WA employers were showing a growing interest in giving former prisoners a second chance through employment.

“With the skills shortages we’re facing, I think there’s been a bit of a mind switch. Companies are actually recognising that former convicts are actually very skilled and very qualified to do the roles,” Mr Webb said.

“It’s great to see employers looking past police clearances and looking at the individuals themselves. The flow on effect is the retention of staff because that loyalty and trust has been built between the participant and employer.”

Mr Webb spearheads four prisoner reintegration programs at Waalitj, including ReSet, which has assisted more than 230 participants into employment since January 2021.

Mr MacShane added that many of the companies he had worked with in the State’s north and in the construction industry had good experiences and were open to recruiting former prisoners.

“The pillar of employment post-release is fundamental for them not to add to our recidivism rate,” he said.

“The 66 per cent of people who re-offend are out of work at the time. They can make all these great changes, they can want to move on but if the opportunity is not created for them, then it can be challenging.”

WA Department of Justice prisoner employment programs manager Larry Smith said there were about 6000 adult prisoners in the State and the importance of their future reintegration into employment could not be overstated enough.

“Employers tell us former prisoners often have a good attitude, are motivated and loyal because they want to make the most of their fresh start,” Mr Smith said.

“The community bears the heavy cost of incarceration. But a former prisoner who is working pays taxes and returns an economic contribution.”

Mr Smith said employers were regularly in contact with him to discuss hiring former prisoners.

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