Apprentice officer stood by a gate

In January 2018, HMP Forest Bank became the first prison in the England and Wales to offer all new Prison Custody Officers the opportunity to work towards an apprenticeship. The nationally accredited standard, a level 3 in Custody and Detention, is a 12 month programme designed to equip new recruits with the necessary skills and grounding for a successful career in a custodial environment. Read the first-hand accounts below to learn more about the course.

Male officer talking to a resident

Kevin's story

Kevin (43) is currently training as a Prison Custody Officer (PCO) at Forest Bank. He is one of 20 new recruits who have joined Sodexo’s Prison Custody Officer Apprenticeship programme, the first in the UK.

On his reasons for joining the apprenticeship programme, Kevin said; “I was a Prison Custody Officer at another prison over 10 years ago.  I left to take a job for a lift company in mechanics and wiring.  However, I missed the job. I wish I’d done things differently in my previous service and always harboured a desire to return. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”

To work in a prison environment, it is imperative that individuals are held in a secure, safe, decent and fair environment and that PCOs work as part of a team to ensure that safety of everyone in custody is a priority.  Therefore, there is a comprehensive training programme for all apprentices covering;

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Health, fire and food safety
  • Prison Service Orders and Instructions
  • Keeping people safe in custody, including working with vulnerable individuals
  • Types of security
  • Personal protection Awareness of departments around the prison and how officers work with them to enable rehabilitation

The programme also includes considerable live shadowing so all apprentices have an opportunity to practice skills while learning.

Kevin commented; “I’ve learned more about interpersonal skills. I’d forgotten things about the role and I’m drawing down new skills. The job itself has changed massively – I’ve had training on recovery to help residents with substance misuse, and equipment used to respond to incidents.

“I definitely couldn’t have gone straight back into the job of a PCO without doing this course. I had good experience in the past but nothing to show for it. I’m enjoying going back to the start and adding formal skills. The course prepares you for what you are going in to.”

Asked what advice he would give to someone considering an apprenticeship, he said; “I’d say be positive and have an open mind. The thing with Sodexo is that they will invest in you. They will see your qualities and you will get on – an apprenticeship can take you wherever you want it to take you. “

Female officer holding a door handle

Hailey's story

Hailey (24) studied Criminology at UCLAN, and had a job at Thornton’s selling chocolates before joining Sodexo’s Prison Custody Officer apprenticeship programme, the first of its kind in the UK.

The 12-month apprenticeship training will be delivered by Sodexo as part of a venture with Personal Track Safety (PTS) and has been accredited as a Level 3 standard.  Hailey is one of twenty individuals who will be the first to participate in the new apprenticeship programme.

Hailey said; “I have always wanted to be a Prison Custody Officer. Prison is a unique environment, as much about ensuring a daily routine as it is about being able to meet day-to-day challenges.  I’ve always wanted to help people and in this job, I have the opportunity to help with the rehabilitation process.”

During her time on the apprenticeship, Hailey will have an initial nine weeks of training and then will join the team at Forest Bank where she will continue her training on the job which will combine monthly assessments, off-the-job training, a reflective journal to track progress.

Having almost completed her initial nine-weeks, Hailey is already seeing the benefits. “Although I already had my criminology degree, this apprenticeship is more directly related to the job, providing first-hand experience of what it entails.”

“I would say I am more security aware, and my confidence has definitely increased. I expected something different – like people in prison would be horrible and out to get me, but it’s not like that at all. Talking to residents is just like talking to anyone else.  They need to be treated with dignity and respect and helped to find a new way of life within a safe, secure and structured environment.  I’m learning every day.”

HMP Forest Bank
Agecroft Road
M27 8FB

Tel: 0161 925 7000

Justice careers

Find out about careers in Sodexo Justice services.