Take2, a non-profit that retrains prisoners for the tech industry, is expanding with the launch of its new "Apprenticeship Playbook" and Spark, Datacom and NZ Covid Tracer app developer Rush lined up to take on its grads.
Founder and CEO Cameron Smith has never been behind bars. Far from it. He's had a successful career in recruitment and venture capital.
But he says a hardscrabble upbringing in Morrinsville helped him empathise with the incarcerated.
"I grew up in small-town, rural New Zealand. I had a single mother who brought up me and my two brothers while working three jobs - all very blue-collar jobs. She raised us three on less than $40,000 a year.
"So, technically, we were a low socio-economic family. It felt like that, growing up, I had a chip on my shoulder.
"When I got older, though, and got my life perspective, I was able to realise that that whole time I was actually quite privileged. I had a mother that loved and supported me, who role-modelled a work ethic, persistence and perseverance, and I had grandparents just down the street that stepped in to help raise me. I had a great education, enabled and supported by my family."
When he started to work in recruitment, Smith says he saw the impact of criminal convictions first-hand.
"Many companies have blanket bans on individuals with criminal convictions, no matter what they've done in the past and the fact they've served their time in the justice system. We as a society are serving everybody a life sentence."
When ex-cons are shunned, it doesn't just stop them from rehabilitating it also holds back their families and whole communities, Smith says - it is particularly true for Māori.
"When I worked in investments and the venture capital industry, seeing the opportunities in the tech industry, the talent shortage, the salaries that are available, and understanding the amazing human capital and potential that sits within our justice system that's being underutilised, it felt to me like a no-brainer to merge the two together."
After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, he decided to change his life tack - and 2019 saw him travelling to North America and the UK to research prisoner rehabilitation and retraining programmes - including The Last Mile, a US programme where incarcerated people are taught coding and other skills, then taken on by tech companies like Slack and Adobe as apprentices upon release.
Smith gained backing from the Tindall Foundation, the Spark Foundation and others, and support from the Department of Corrections and private prison operator Serco to create a classroom in the Serco-run Auckland South Corrections Facility - a high-security prison in Wiri - to run a pilot programme for a handful of inmates last year.
One criticism of such programmes is that they lack scale. According to an update in April this year, only 974 people have been through the Last Mile's programme in the US since 2010.
But here, Smith has more ambitious plans. He wants to see 80 to 100 people a year finding work through Take2 within three years.
And while the current tech crunch obviously makes companies a lot more open than usual to taking on staff with challenging backgrounds, Smith is confident he can build an enterprise that can outlast the labour squeeze.
Part of his plan to transition to a self-sustaining non-profit involves the launch of a social enterprise called Take2 Labs - that is his own web development outfit staffed by ex-cons. He hopes to have it up and running by year's end.
"We will take on commercial web development projects that create job opportunities for our participants, and pay them an industry wage. And they can leave that social enterprise whenever they feel comfortable to go into the industry and there's a job opportunity waiting for them."
While many might feel confronted by the prospect of, say, hiring an ex-gang member who has done time for a violent crime, Smith says there's only one offence that immediately rules out an inmate: hacking.
Take2 has developed a three-year programme, which consists of a year of training in prison, followed by two years of reintegration and community support.
It consists of a mix of hard technical skills, with an emphasis on the computer coding skills needed for web design and development, and the soft social skills required to fit into a workplace - a prospect that many on the inside find daunting.
Take2 has launched the Apprenticeship Playbook, an e-handbook designed to help tech companies see the value in hiring former prisoners (or ex-incarcerated individuals, in NGO-speak) using real-life examples and step-by-step guides.
Smith already had some big names on board from an industry that last year received some stick in a public-private report on the tech labour squeeze - which noted that while border closures had exacerbated the tech talent shortage, a fall-off in inhouse training, and a marked lack of diversity, were also factors.
"We know that technology will play a critical role in New Zealand's future, but we need to ensure that every Kiwi has an opportunity to be a part of it," says Spark chief executive Jolie Hodson.
"Although technology has the power to break down barriers, it can also create them for those who don't have the access or skills to use it," the telco boss says.
"Take2's life-changing programme offers some of our most vulnerable citizens a chance to join Aotearoa's technology sector and benefit from the significant growth in digital careers that will be experienced in the years to come. We are proud to support this important mahi."
Datacom NZ managing director Justin Gray says: "Take2's mission aligns perfectly with Datacom's commitment to achieving greater equity and inclusion in the tech sector, and playing an active role in the communities we serve. We really believe in the kaupapa of Take2 and feel privileged to be part of this work with Cam and his team.
"Our team is excited to play a role in providing an opportunity for people, who for various reasons have spent time in prison, to gain new skills in a fast-growing industry that has the potential to kick-start a new life and a successful career. It's great to see tech leaders coming together to tackle recidivism and help create second chances for those who need them, to benefit the individual, their family and future generations."