Prisoners are being taught about scaffolding on virtual reality headsets instead of ladders so they can't use the kit to escape.
The inmates have been allowed for the first time to use the headsets inside a jail to simulate working at height on a building site and discover whether they might have any problems with acrophobia.
It means that prisoners can determine whether the job is right for them, increasing the chances that successful applicants stick with it once they leave jail.
But the technology also prevents any security breach if they were to scale buildings or climb ladders and enables them to be taught within the enclosed setting of a prison where there is limited space.
“From a security and safety point of view, it is much easier if prisoners use the VR headsets to simulate rather than climbing up ladders,” said a Ministry of Justice source. It is also being applied to spray painting, driving dump trucks and forklift vehicles.
The initiative was part of a series of “unlocking construction” events where employers mounted job fairs in around 60 prisons to enable them to recruit ex-inmates to plug job shortages and help reduce the risk of reoffending.
Evidence shows that ex-prisoners who have a job to go to are nine percentage points less likely to reoffend, while surveys have shown 90 per cent of businesses that employ them found reliable, motivated and trustworthy staff.
Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, said: “Campaigns like Unlocking Construction are steering offenders into work and away from crime, leaving our streets safer. At the same time, businesses can plug skills gaps with reliable and motivated staff – so it is good for our economy.”
The headsets teach health and safety at heights, and have been gamified so prisoners must spot potentially fatal dangers in a time limit.
The National Access and Scaffolding Confederation (Nasc), which represents the industry, has taught the course at six jails, including Belmarsh and Wormwood Scrubs in London, to prisoners with three to six months left to serve. More than 60 prisoners have so far been recruited by businesses within the confederation.
Henry Annafi, training officer for Nasc, said: “We are not here to give them a fun day out so much. We are trying to be part of the system that allows them to move from rehabilitation into reintegration.”
He said virtual reality technology allowed employers to introduce them to the concept of working at height. “It’s prohibitive any other way because they don’t have the appropriate space. Prisons are very averse to getting ladders in for obvious reasons.”