Serco became so consumed with moving as many prison guards as it could through its training school that it left its new employees at risk when they started on the job, a New Zealand Qualifications Authority report has found.

In a report critical of Serco NZ Training, NZQA found the company's initial training course had been deliberately structured to tick the legal boxes needed to get new employees into prison and working.

In doing so it created patchwork training leaving "Serco employees with the basic requirements to perform as prison officers" but creating "a risk to the employees working in a complex and high-risk environment like prisons".

The NZQA report studied the private Serco Training facility which exists solely to train prison guards to work in Mt Eden and Wiri prisons.

Advertisement

Serco Training is owned by Serco, the company which has the contract to manage the private prisons.

Serco's management of Mt Eden prison - which the training facility is based - has come in for criticism after mobile phones recordings in the jail showed contraband and violence among inmates.The Department of Corrections took over management of the prison in June while an inquiry was being carried out.

The NZQA report was critical of Serco NZ Training's systems which had seen 372 new prison guards trained since the company started in mid-2013.

It found a heavy focus on the nine-week "initial training" needed to have a new staff member "legally recognised as a prison officer".

But the "initial training" content plucked the legal requirements from the level three National Certificate in Offender Management course which aimed to allow new guards "consolidate their prison management skills" while building confidence through work-based training. Only 26 per cent of those enrolled had completed the full course inside the six months it was meant to take.

NZQA called the qualification rates "weak", saying it was "largely due to flaws in the programme design" including assessment methods which were "impractical and unrealistic". Even if students had wanted to push on to the full qualification, there was a "lack of capacity in Serco Training to support trainees through workplace training".

"Direction from governance (Serco managers) was overly focused on ensuring sufficient supply of prison officers." NZQA found Serco NZ Training "was not adequately resourced" which "led to a sacrifice in qualification completion putting Serco employees at risk of not refining their skills while operating in a complex and high-risk prison environment".

NZQA found Serco's new prison at Wiri meant it needed "hundreds of new prison officers to be recruited and trained". It meant a "very high throughput of initial training."

A Serco spokeswoman said recruitment and training of Corrections Officers to staff Auckland South Corrections Facility was a primary focus during the period under review by NZQA.

"We are pleased NZQA found Serco Training met the most critical needs of training, ensuring all staff met the requirements to work as a prison officer. The report recognises that Serco Training's initial training course for Corrections Officers clearly provides new employees with the knowledge, skills and attitudes for this role.

"Many of our officers are well down the track to achieving the extended NCOM 3 qualification, which will further enhance their ability to make a difference in prisoners' lives. Serco Training is committed to lifting the qualification completion rate for the National Certificate in Offender Management, in line with NZQA's recommendations."

Corrections commercial director Julie Robertson said there was "no contractual relationship" with Serco's training arm.

Under the contract Corrections had with the company, she said Serco was required "to have sufficient suitable staff members trained to a minimum legislated standard to deliver their contract".

Since July, Corrections had a prison director and management team put in Mt Eden prison to "oversee its day to day running". "This management team has been helping Serco staff lift the standard of operation of Mt Eden Corrections Facility to acceptable levels."

Labour prisons' spokesman Kelvin Davis said it would be expected an employer would help staff prepare as best they could for challenging situations.

"If they are only getting bare basics, no wonder there are problems."

Corrections minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga declined to comment on the issue.