Thoughts, stories and events to share


Claudia Vince, about 4 years ago

In a previous blog we discussed the work of Tanjit Dosanjh, who has developed a training course for prisoners named Pen Optical. Upon visiting his father in prison, Tanjit recognised the potential for an innovative training course for prisoners, that would improve their chances of employment upon release. After spending several years practicing optometry, Tanjit began developing and piloting the course aimed at training prisoners to be Optical Assistants. Now fully operational, the full time programme lasts eight weeks and provides participants with the training and experience necessary for them to pursue employment opportunities in the field of optometry.

Having been running for several years now, the scheme is well established and has helped a number of former prisoners secure employment in opticians across the country. We spoke to Sanjay Patel, Ophthalmic Director at Specsavers Maidstone to discuss his experience working as part of the Pen Optical scheme.

The big benefit for us is that Pen Optical have done training before they actually join us, so they're already coming with good knowledge that saves six months of training from our point of view.

- Sanjay Patel.

Sanjay recognises that the scheme benefits Specsavers as a business in that it produces well trained and skilled Optical Assistants who are ready to start working immediately. As Pen Optical trainees receive training before starting work in the opticians practice, they are skilled and valued members of the team as soon as they arrive. This means the practice is run by staff with the relevant training and experience to ensure customer care can remain at the forefront of their work. From this it can be noted that not only does the scheme provide prisoners and former prisoners with the opportunity to improve their future prospects, but it also benefits the business as a whole, allowing the Specsavers group to train and retain high quality and valued staff members.

In his experience of working with the trainees, Sanjay notes that they enthusiastic and keen to learn and many have previous experience that perfectly suits them to working as Optical Assistants.

We find they are very reliable, very hard working and the quality seems to be excellent in terms of their previous experience in other roles they've been in. They are very transferable to a retail and customer facing role.

In welcoming trainees into the team, other staff members recognise the value of the scheme, which helps all employees understand the importance of inclusivity in the workplace. Involvement in Pen Optical has highlighted to Sanjay and other Specsavers employees how important it is for ex-offenders to be given the opportunities and support to help them succeed.

At present, the majority of Pen Optical trainees come from Standford Hill and East Sutton Park, meaning the Specsavers Maidstone branch is a convenient location for trainees to work. For a number of trainees, when they are released from prison and relocate to their home towns, they are able to secure employment in other Specsavers branches due to their experience and recommendations from the Maidstone team. As Sanjay has found his experience working with Pen Optical as overwhelmingly positive, he hopes other prisons and branches will look at expanding the scheme in the future, to provide more prisoners and employers with the chance to work alongside one another and improve the future prospects of ex-offenders across the country.