We would all hope that those who employ us are relatively fair in their approach to recruiting talent for their workforce and I so was staggered to read in The New York Times recently that you can still be fired for being gay in 29 states. This led me to reflect on the ‘silent taboos’ that may still exist in the UK recruitment market.
Part One: The Ex-offender
Having worked as a Press Officer for over five years in The Courts Service, recruitment of ex-offenders was the first taboo that came to mind. In my experience it was always difficult for those who had served time in prison to find their way into a suitable job once released back into society. You can understand the trepidation of those who have to insert ‘jail’ as an occupation on their CV when applying for a job, along with that of the employer who may not have any experience of recruiting from this ‘unknown’ entity.
The 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act states that anyone with a spent conviction does not have to declare it to employers (with the exception of certain jobs, such as those that involve children or vulnerable people). However, the Act does not apply to those most in most need of stable employment – those who have just been released from prison, or to anyone who has served over 30 months in jail.
A research report ‘Employing ex-offenders to capture talent’ was commissioned in 2007 by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). It found that only 23 employers out of a total of 474 respondents reported a negative experience, citing disciplinary action and problems with colleagues and customers as the reasons. The nature and seriousness of the offence (64%) is what concerns organisations most when considering employing ex-offenders; some would naturally be of more concern than others, with sexual offences proving the biggest cause for concern and driving offences the least. This is followed by the relevance of an offence to the job vacancy in question (63%). Another primary concern was about the personal behaviour of ex-offenders and their possession of soft skills such as honesty and reliability.
It’s such a sad statistic that young adults (18-24 year olds) represent just 9% of the UK population, yet account for a third of those sent to prison each year and a third of the probation service’s caseload according research for the ‘What’s The Risk’ report by the charity Business in the Community (BITC). However, they say that young adults are also the most likely age group to ‘grow out of crime’, and a positive intervention at this stage can get an offender back on the right track. Consultation which was undertaken by BITC over five years suggests employers who are willing to recruit ex-offenders consider ‘risk management’ a significant part of the recruitment process.
John Timpson is a renowned pioneer of recruiting those with convictions with 10 per cent (currently 270) of the workforce ex-inmates, or ‘Foundation Colleagues’ as they are known by the company. Having refined its recruitment techniques, Timpson now deploys two members of staff to visit around 70 mainly category C or D prisons – interviewing and mentoring leavers. Timpson also has Academies in Liverpool, Wandsworth, New Hall and Forest Bank prisons where incumbents can learn the trade. And it’s reassuring to see major companies, such as Virgin, Marks & Spencer, Greggs and Boots have begun to follow Timpson’s lead.
St Giles Trust
St Giles Trust, patroned by Prince William and supported by Sir Richard Branson, aims to help break the cycle of prison, crime and disadvantage and create safer communities by supporting people to change their lives. Their services put reformed ex-offenders at the heart of the solution, training them to use their skills and first-hand experience to help others through peer-led support. Around one-third of their staff are ex-offenders who now support others.
The Trust’s nurturing nature offers the 16,000 clients they work with each year:
Somewhere to live…. Something to work for… Positive relationships… Support from someone who has been there.
Clients are offered a range of services both in prison and in the community which help them overcome any barriers which might be holding them back from moving their lives forward in a positive way.
A spokeswoman for crime reduction charity, Nacro, said recently: “It is important to acknowledge that many people who commit minor offences will never offend again. Employers need to distinguish between past offences, which may indicate a continued risk, and those offences – often of a trivial nature – which should have no impact upon a person’s ability to do their job.”
We encourage and support employers in hiring ex-offenders because we know that this is vital to reduce reoffending.
And finally, Working Links, which carries out research and works on behalf of the Government to deliver programmes to help ex-offenders reintegrate back into society, say that only 22% of ex-offenders who go into full-time employment re-offend, compared to 70% of those who do not move into full-time employment; clearly, employment helps people turn away from crime.
Let’s hope that thanks to the injection of confidence in those who deserve a second change by companies like Timpsons, Virgin and other brand leaders, this is one area that is no longer such a ‘silent taboo’.