Ask John: Having ex-offenders on the team has proved an unqualified success

Writing in the ‘small business’ section of Telegraph Connect, part of The Telegraph, John Timpson (chairman of Timpson) responds to a question about how other companies could start recruiting former prisoners like Timpson have:

Thirteen years after my son and Timpson chief executive, James, took on our first recruit from prison, we now employ more than 400 ex-offenders, who include lots of branch managers, two area managers and two members of our senior management team. The scheme has been an unqualified success, but we learned a lot of lessons along the way.

Interestingly, he talks about their recruitment style:

At first we tried to be heroes by taking on some of the toughest characters, but we were simply setting them up to fail. We quickly stopped picking inmates recommended by the prison officers and interviewed every candidate using the same criteria we apply to all applicants…we only pick people with a positive personality.

And what about the reaction of existing employees?

Initially we kept quiet, only telling our colleagues on a need-to-know basis. Only those who were working alongside the people recruited from prison were aware of what was going on. I was nervous about the reaction of both our colleagues and customers. I need not have worried; everyone discovered that they were fantastic.

He talks about the need for coordination within the company:

If you’re serious about employing ex-offenders, you need a “Darren”. Darren is our full-time coordinator, who interviews applicants and is both guardian angel and mentor during their apprenticeship. He’s a star – a man with a mission – who tells me he has the job of his dreams. Darren knows precisely what help is needed, because five years ago, he joined us from prison.

And his message to other companies?

If you want to find out more, I have two books that describe the challenges and opportunities for both the companies that employ ex-offenders, and the people who join them from prison. The books are free. To obtain copies, simply send me an email at the address below.

John Timpson is chairman of the high-street services provider, Timpson. Send him an email at: askjohn@telegraph.co.uk.

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Christopher Stacey