Labour crunch, more confidence in rehab lead to record number of inmates employed

Ex-offender Shaharuddin Moktar (above) is now a chef at Royal Plaza on Scotts and was promoted twice in two years, while (left) IT associate Epin (seated), seen here with his company's executive chairman Fang Kok Look (far left) and head of HR Alvin
Ex-offender Shaharuddin Moktar (above) is now a chef at Royal Plaza on Scotts and was promoted twice in two years, while (left) IT associate Epin (seated), seen here with his company's executive chairman Fang Kok Look (far left) and head of HR Alvin Yap, is a model employee.ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN, MARK CHEONG
Ex-offender Shaharuddin Moktar (above) is now a chef at Royal Plaza on Scotts and was promoted twice in two years, while (left) IT associate Epin (seated), seen here with his company's executive chairman Fang Kok Look (far left) and head of HR Alvin
Ex-offender Shaharuddin Moktar (above) is now a chef at Royal Plaza on Scotts and was promoted twice in two years, while (left) IT associate Epin (seated), seen here with his company's executive chairman Fang Kok Look (far left) and head of HR Alvin Yap, is a model employee.ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN, MARK CHEONG

A criminal past matters less at the office now.

The manpower crunch and greater confidence in rehabilitated offenders is driving more bosses to put former inmates on the payroll.

Singapore Prison Service (SPS) statistics released last month showed that a record 2,114 inmates bagged a job even before their release last year. In 2012, the figure was 1,708, up from 1,586 in 2011.

There has also been a 12 per cent jump in the number of employers registered with the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises' (Score) database - from 3,457 in 2012 to 3,876 last year.

By registering, employers can put their job vacancies on an online portal for current and former inmates.

Mr John Low, Score's assistant director for employer engagement, said this growing acceptance of former offenders is due to campaigns like the Yellow Ribbon Project.

Prisons are also helping inmates develop professional skills to make them more employable. Last year, SPS and Score offered close to 5,000 more vocational training spots than in 2012, bringing the total to 24,404.

Companies like retail group Dairy Farm Singapore and restaurant chain Nando's say helping former convicts find a place in society is in keeping with their corporate social responsibility objectives.

But a tight labour market, in which hiring foreign workers is a costly move, is also helping to change attitudes.

"They're a largely untapped source of alternative hires in a limited pool of manpower resources," explained Mr Alvin Yap, head of human resources at safety training company Absolute Kinetics Consultancy, a Score-registered employer.

One of their employees is a 45-year-old who has been in and out of jail for 12 years. The IT associate, who wanted to be known as Epin, has been described by his employer as a "shining example" for former offenders going back to work.

"Having a job not only keeps me from straying back to my old ways, it makes me believe I can still achieve anything," Epin said.

Score's Mr Low said he has also noticed more employers offering former offenders supervisory and management positions.

A 35-year-old former inmate, known as Robert is now a sales manager supervising a team of 10. Before his release, he worried about his job prospects.

"I didn't know if I could find a job - and even if I landed one, I didn't know if I could progress in my career," he said. "But I worked hard, took initiative, and my boss came up to tell me, I can count on you."

Mr Low said the rising number of high-skilled jobs for former inmates could be because more criminals have higher qualifications, given rising education levels in Singapore.

SPS statistics show that of the 12,774 inmates jailed last year, 790 went through at least tertiary education - up from 666 the year before.

Still, Singapore After-Care Association director Prem Kumar said former offenders should not expect their slates to be wiped completely clean.

Those who have served time for drug-related offences are unlikely to find jobs handling medication, while those guilty of white-collar crime may be kept away from financial work.

"More people are open to ex-offenders, yes. But not all are. And inmates need to know that," he said. "More than anyone else, they need to prove themselves worthy of trust."

asyiqins@sph.com.sg

Register here to get free digital access to The Straits Times until Aug 9, 2015.
Comments