James, the boss of Timpson, the high street key cutters and shoe repair shops, says clearly “I recruit personalities”.
There are many UK employers who not only employ ex-offenders, but actively recruit them via both workshops in prisons and direct applications. Your conviction is not the barrier you might think it is, and bosses like James, talk openly about the chance to help ex offenders learn new skills, and build careers.
Other employers like PLIAS, see unique value in employing ex offenders. Don’t underestimate your skills, and what your experiences are worth. As Tom at PLIAS says, “Kim offers a deep understanding of what some of the challenges the barriers and the feelings and emotions that people will face coming out of prison because she’s been there.”
Some of the UK’s biggest companies employ ex-offenders, you’ll recognise most of the names, and they are all very clear about the benefits to both the company and the job seeker.
We have seen some real success. We are about to open our fifth prison workshop and 16 of our shops are now managed by people recruited from prison —John Timpson
Timpson employs more prison leavers than any other company in the UK, Greggs deliver training skills courses for offenders and ex-offenders, and DHL work in prisons themselves, allowing prisoners to gain work experience as well as, crucially, a qualification.
DHL hope that this kind of scheme will help ex-offenders to break the cycle of crime. A number of those who have been through the programme, and have since been permanently released, are now employed full time within DHL.
“Offenders follow the relevant selection process and are treated in the same way as other candidates,” explains Trish Hopkinson, from DHL. “The process is fully supported by both the company and the prison, and requires a high level of motivation and commitment from the offender.”
Outside of prison, many companies actively remove discrimination from the application process for ex-offenders. It’s important to remember that this means you’ll be treated equally during the application process, and won’t be singled out for your past. It doesn’t, however, mean that you’re guaranteed a job.
First Direct, The Co-Op, Marks & Spencer and Virgin are some of the big UK names who employ ex-offenders, as well as those mentioned above. Virgin boss Richard Branson says “it’s about awareness, employers need to be aware of the positives of taking on people who have been in prison. Our experience shows that people from prison, if properly selected, will prove to be just as reliable as recruits who come from elsewhere. It is their personality that matters most.”
In order to try and make sure ex-offenders get the most positive start to their applications, a number of companies have signed up to the Ban The Box campaign, to give people a second chance by removing the tick box from application forms that asks about criminal convictions.
As both Kim and Patric discovered, volunteering can be a valuable third route into work. During his time as a manager at the YMCA Patric found that the deciding factor in giving ex-offenders an interview was whether they had volunteering experience on their CV.
Volunteering is a great way to learn new skills and get a recent reference. It will also get you out and about and meeting new people who may be able to offer you work or recommend you to possible employers. Often jobs aren’t advertised so word of mouth is a good way to find work. Volunteering will also give you an opportunity to prove yourself to potential employers first, which can encourage them to look beyond your convictions and see you as you are now.
Social Enterprises, like Camden Garden Centre offer a number of “trainee” places to people who have had to face difficulties and disadvantage in life, and Blue sky, only employ ex-offenders. By offering a proper job with a proper company, Blue Sky aims to break the cycle of re-offending and help change what people may think about about ex-offenders.
Mike Jackson, from Camden garden Centre, says that although the centre is a proper business, the profits are put back into the charity that runs it, and so his particular job is to look for trainees who have had trouble accessing the job market, like ex-offenders.
Through volunteering, some ex-offenders have managed to turn their skills into a career, and even their own business. Alfred says that he is now more open to the different opportunities available to him. “Formulating my business, being given that confidence to go out and network with other organisations, I decided to turn the mentoring into a business simply because I’ve actually been in this situation before.”