Unlocking the potential of the UK’s ex-offenders

NatWest has published an article about recruiting people with convictions, featuring this site as a source of support for employers. The article is copied below:

One remedy to the UK’s skills gap could be to hire more ex-offenders, so what’s the best way of going about this?

There are around 1.6 million unemployed people in the UK, defined as those who are eligible for and actively seeking work. Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported recently that there are about 750,000 unfilled jobs in the UK at any one time.

There are numerous reasons for this mismatch. The ‘skills gap’ is often bandied about as the primary factor – that people don’t have the appropriate knowledge for a certain role – but another possible, less discussed factor, could be employers’ reluctance to hire people with criminal records.

It might come as a surprise to learn that almost one in every six people in the UK has a criminal record. And many of these people report difficulties in finding a job because they are forced into disclosing this information during the recruitment process, often by ticking a box on the application form.

But it needn’t be this way.

Ban the box

“There are more than 10.5 million people in the UK who have a criminal record,” says Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, an independent charity that assists people with criminal convictions. “We know from employers that have been proactive in recruiting people with convictions that they make good employees. The first thing we recommend any company does is look at its current policy and approach. Often we find there are fundamental barriers in the recruitment process, such as a tick-box on the application form that HR managers use as a sifting mechanism.”

Unlock supports the Ban the Box campaign, which involves companies removing such sections from application forms and asking the question later in the recruitment process once they’ve identified the best person for the job.

Another complication, as Unlock points out, is that companies struggle to understand complex criminal record disclosure legislation as well as rehabilitation legislation, the latter having been updated in recent years to guide employers on recruiting ex-offenders.

Stacey explains: “We have 10 simple principles that we recommend all companies follow – this includes having a clear, accessible policy and making sure the right questions are asked. Ultimately, it’s important to see this as a great opportunity to benefit both your business and society more generally. We encourage any employer interested in being more open towards recruiting people with convictions to reach out to us and we’ll help you along the way.”

High-street heroes

For SMEs reluctant to hire people with criminal records, inspiration is at hand, thanks to several big-name brands that are using more inclusive hiring practices – among them are Greggs, Timpson, Virgin Trains and Marks & Spencer.

“At Greggs, we believe that by not overlooking any potential employees because of their past, we can select the right person and develop them to their full potential,” says Roisin Currie, group people director at the bakery chain. “Our retention rate for ex-offenders via our Fresh Start programme in 2015 is 78%, which we are very proud of,” she says.

Currie, who also chairs the Employers’ Forum for Reducing Re-offending, pays tribute to organisations like Unlock for helping to raise awareness and improve knowledge: “Unlock’s website for employers has been very helpful to us in improving our own approach towards recruiting people with convictions, and we encourage other employers to make use of the practical advice and resources it has to offer,” she says.

“Our policy is that all ex-offenders can choose whether or not to disclose their convictions to their colleagues. We offer them an opportunity to keep their past private and to start with a clean slate”

Elsewhere, Marks & Spencer runs its own employability programme, Marks & Start, which supports people facing barriers to work. “The programme consists of a two-to-four-week work experience placement in one of our stores, and an accreditation at the end,” says Sophie Brooks, senior employee engagement manager. “The accreditation is the most powerful part of the programme as it means they can walk straight into a job with us – there’s no need for any interview or assessment.

“They are individuals who are extremely loyal and grateful for the opportunity we’ve given them, and so they often go over and above the day job. This programme really boosts their confidence and self-esteem, and it’s unbelievable to see the change in someone when we offer them a job at the end of their placement.”

Anonymity and education

Virgin Trains recently released a toolkit for businesses about hiring ex-offenders. It’s a guide aimed at companies looking to hire people with convictions, and stresses the importance of anonymity: “We run our ex-offender recruitment events just like our standard events but, understandably, candidates have questions about who will know about their past convictions. Anonymity is a big hurdle for ex-offenders getting back into work.

“Our policy is that all ex-offenders can choose whether or not to disclose their convictions to their colleagues. Obviously, the HR team knows, as it’s discussed during the hiring process, but their manager and colleagues don’t necessarily need to know. We offer them an opportunity to keep their past private and to start with a clean slate.”

Unlock also has several practical guides for curious companies, walking them through the recruitment process to education and trainings. “We recently launched a practical website for employers, Recruit!, which shares good practice, provides free guidance and tools, and shows what other employers are doing,” says Stacey.

“There are also useful networks of other employers that are involved in recruiting people with convictions, and it can be useful to organise a visit to your local prison or probation area to meet some people that you might currently be missing out on – you’ll be surprised at the talent you find.”

You might do so already…

It’s worth bearing in mind that while one in three men and almost one in 10 women receive a conviction by the age of 53, there are just 335,000 people inside the criminal justice system, either in prison or on probation. Working with ex-offenders is not as rare as you might think.

Thinking about hiring an ex-offender?

If you’re looking to include and assimilate ex-offenders into your workplace, Unlock’s Recruit! website has the following tips:

  • A specific policy that sets out your approach towards applicants with criminal records is important. Sometimes, it can be a requirement.
  • Each time you recruit, look at your approach to criminal records and make sure you’re doing everything right.
  • The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, the Police Act 1997, and other legislation linked to these are key to understanding how to deal with criminal records as part of your recruitment process.
  • Some insurers stipulate that you inform them when employing people with unspent convictions.
  • In most industries, whether you ask about criminal records as part of your recruitment process is down to company policy.
  • If you ask about criminal records, ensure you are clear about what information you want – and when you ask for it.
  • A criminal record self-disclosure form provides a helpful foundation for understanding and assessing the criminal record of the applicant.
  • Any employment position can be subject to a basic criminal record check.
  • Police records are not the same as a criminal record check. They are protected under the Data Protection Act.

For more information, visit Recruit!