Apprentices provide a secure future for Prison Service

The job of a Prisoner Custody Officer (PCO) is one of the most challenging of all. Balancing the needs of safety, security and care of prisoners, the role involves being a parent, carer and counsellor as well as a keeper of keys. This is why new recruits are receiving the very best training possible to ensure they are ready for the challenge through the Custodial Care Apprenticeship.

The apprenticeship is being offered to all new recruits taken on at Serco, a leading operator of custodial services in the UK. The company currently runs four prisons, a young offender institution and a secure training centre on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, as well as prisoner escort and custody services.

Garry Regan, Training and Resource Manager in the Programmes and Transition Group at Serco, said: “A PCO requires excellent interpersonal skills, self belief, determination and a willingness to help other people.

“You are a mother, a father, a nurse and a whole host of other roles as well. The job’s not just about completing certain tasks but changing the way you think about the world and the way you see things. It’s not just a career, but a way of life.”

The Custodial Care Advanced Level Apprenticeship has been developed by Skills for Justice with the help of employers, like Serco, who proposed the framework to help promote high standards across the prison service. The apprenticeship will provide a consistent set of qualifications and standards to ensure that employees have the necessary skills needed for their present and future career in custodial care. It includes a Level 3 NVQ Diploma in Custodial Care, which is equivalent to two A levels.

Delivered by Newcastle under Lyme College, the apprenticeship is currently being provided at three prisons – HMP Doncaster, HMP Dovegate and HMP Lowdham Grange. At HMP Thameside, the new category B prison opening in March this year, over 75 Serco staff have registered for the apprenticeship.

Garry, who was part of the working group that put the standards together for the apprenticeship, said: “As an employer, it makes sense to ensure new recruits are trained to a high standard. While the NVQ demonstrates somebody’s ability to do the job, the apprenticeship is about developing the individual and giving them more of a chance to have a positive impact on the business. We are extremely proud of our involvement.”

Vicky Boulton Clark, Head of Employer Engagement and Work-Based Learning at Newcastle under Lyme College, said: “Because the apprenticeship covers what is relevant, apprentices are demonstrating their ability to understand what the role of a custodial officer is. The apprenticeship also includes maths and English, which are vital skills and support the development of prison custody officers further down the line.”

She believes the apprenticeship is a solid way of preparing new recruits for the role, adding, “New prison officers coming into the service will be trained to the standards of the business and this gives employers confidence in their staff.”

Successful Serco apprentices so far include Tanya Savage, a dedicated and talented young PCO at HMP Dovegate, who has been nominated for Apprentice of the Year at the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Apprenticeship Recognition Awards.

Her assessor at HMP Dovegate, Chris Love, said: “Tanya has had to deal with some very challenging individuals in difficult situations, frequently dealing with confrontation. I have observed her as she has continually developed her assertiveness and interpersonal skills and at the same time has upheld the organisation’s policy on Equality and Diversity and Decency whilst still maintaining physical, procedural and dynamic security.

“She is an exemplary candidate who is driven and highly motivated but at the same time, is a very modest individual. She is a credit to her generation.”

Paul Champion
07540 704920

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Twitter: @champouk

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