More can be done to equip inmates with practical skills

As an employer who has had the opportunity to interview and employ a number of former prison inmates, I wonder if we have done enough to maximise their marketability ("SkillsFuture applies to inmates, too"; last Sunday).

There are some skills that are universally essential.

First, a good grounding in computer skills is necessary, no matter which area workers are likely to be deployed in, be it administration, sales and marketing, warehouse, delivery or technical support.

Second, good communication and interpersonal skills are required to interact and collaborate with colleagues.

Such soft skills are also needed to effectively respond to customers' needs.

Third, basic technical skills are needed, to enable workers to be speedily trained for providing product support in after-sales service departments.

Disappointingly, I do not find many former inmates armed with these critically essential skills.

There is abundant evidence worldwide showing the benefits of educational programmes in reducing the rate of inmates returning to prison. However, it remains a big challenge to find out which programmes are the most cost-effective.

From the employers' perspective, we do not need many more O- and A-level holders; instead, we need more candidates equipped with practical skills that can be immediately applied in the workplace.

Motivation to learn could be an obstacle. Some countries have successfully introduced incentive schemes whereby skill acquisitions can be used as credits for a reduction in prison stay.

Given the acute shortage of skilled manpower that we face as a nation, perhaps the prison authorities could consider such a practice.

Chang Nam Yuen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 05, 2016, with the headline 'More can be done to equip inmates with practical skills'. Print Edition | Subscribe