The Forward Trust been working in prisons for 25 years, delivering a diverse range of employability and skills contracts, including those in the community. And despite being a new entrant into the prison IAG (Information, Advice and Guidance) arena, we have been highly successful in winning IAG contracts through the DPS.  We are delivering IAG services in seven prisons, including one regional cluster and a high security prison. We have supported over 900 learners, 85% of whom have had their completed individual learning plan reviewed regularly within a six week period. 

We believe that high quality careers advice in prisons will enable our learners to access jobs and apprenticeship roles that will help them to continue to develop their qualifications, improve their pay and progress in life.  As such, these service make a crucial contribution towards Forward’s mission to break the cycles of addiction and crime.

Overall, our experience has been very positive. While we have made big investments of time, effort, skills and knowledge, we have also learned a lot from delivering in environments that are very challenging for both staff and learners.

Here are three challenges and eight success factors from our experience so far.

The challenges

  1. While many prison commissioners have adhered to their tendering deadlines, some have taken a lot longer respond or delayed procurement. This has reduced the amount of time for delivery – which is particularly challenging given the IAG delivery period is for a maximum of 12 months.
  2. Feedback from commissioners on unsuccessful tenders has been very varied, and sometimes not useful for producing better future responses.
  3. Medium sized providers such as ourselves have sometimes felt squeezed by larger providers who can offer the ‘experience’ and no doubt economies of scale, but may lack the innovation we and smaller providers can offer.

The success factors

  1. New approaches and ideas for the delivery of IAG services has been welcomed e.g. workshops on soft skills
  2. Quality is important – but a low price score can literally be the difference between winning and losing a tender.
  3. Effective and prompt mobilisation builds credibility and trust with commissioners
  4. Staffing can take time, particularly getting through prison vetting, so we have used local talent banks of potential IAG advisors. We have worked closely with our HR recruitment teams to run recruitment campaigns as we have tendered.
  5. Partnership working has been critical, particularly with the prison education framework provider, Learning and Skills Managers, New Futures Network, Job Centre Plus, prison industries leads, Key Workers, library services and other providers working in the prisons.
  6. Influencing prisons activities, such as work or prison industries, so that they are better aligned to the IAG and careers advice.
  7. Added value is critical. We have provided support and resources funded by other sources to help our prisons – such as access to our employer partners at job fairs, enterprise coaching and connections to opportunities via our Forward Enterprise Fund (
  8. Access to our work in the community, supported by devolved Adult Education Budget Funding, ESFA ESF contracts and JCP DPS, allows us to provide a clear bridge to employment beyond the prison gates.  We  spoke about this in our May 2019 ERSA blog

For more information on Forward Trust’s Employment Services, see

Gee Punia is the Head of Employability and Skills at the Forward Trust

Asi Panditharatna is the Divisional Director of Employment Services at the Forward Trust