Handcuffs to cufflinks

There are 95,500 people in prison in the UK and 1.2 million in the US; in America, as many people have criminal records as those who have a college diploma.

According to the UK government, only 17 per cent of ex-offenders manage to get a job within a year of release – and yet individuals will be nine percentage points less likely to re-offend if they do find work.

The biggest concern amongst employers about hiring returning citizens is that they may not be trustworthy. Yet the vast majority of employers who have taken on former offenders have had positive experiences: 86 per cent rate ex-offenders as good at their job and 92 per cent say diverse recruitment has enhanced their reputation and helped them win new contracts.

Marks & Spencer reports that former offenders place a higher value on having a job because of wanting to avoid prison, keeping loyalty and retention rates high.

Customers say they would be comfortable buying from a business that employs ex-offenders (three out of four people questioned), and 81 per cent believes that businesses employing ex-offenders are making a positive contribution to society.

Many prisons teach industry-level skills such as health care, social care and transport and logistics, as well as academic qualifications including a degree.

Jazz Singh served three years in prison and is now the founder of EmpowerAbility, with a mission to revolutionise the workplace by highlighting the invisible talent and skills economy of people who have left prison.

“I have a law degree and a 17-year career in wealth management at director level. Just because I have a conviction, I haven’t lost all that. But when a hiring manager looks at my criminal conviction, that might be all they see,” says Jazz.

“I was anxious about leaving prison because I didn’t know what my options were to rebuild my life and not fall onto the hamster wheel of re-offending.

“I can truly say that prison is the best thing to happen to me. It re-bolted me as a human and has pivoted me into the work that I love.

“Former offenders want to be inspiring in the world, not warnings.”

Q: What skills do returning citizens have to contribute to the workplace?
A: “The same as many other people’s skill sets. Prison is not full of bad people. It is full of people who made bad decisions.

“When you’re in prison, people develop superhero skills that are only activated when placed under extreme pressure. If you look at prison, it is a gateway of pressure from the moment you walk in until you walk out. You have to navigate laser lines that you can’t see but that can trip you up any time. This kind of environment activates emotional resilience and a high degree of focus, and even when you leave prison, it is a game of snakes and ladders not to re-offend.”

Q: Why can sourcing from this hidden talent pool help stem the skills shortage?
A: “In a returning citizen, you will find talent that is going to be over-loyal and work hard.

“The most uncomfortable point for any person who has been in prison is having to disclose their offence when applying for jobs. It reminds them of what they have done all over again. If you are looking for long-term players in your business who can progress through the system, a returning citizen will be that person. They will be able to show you they have the right skill sets, that they can embed themselves into your company culture and be a long-term ally.”

Q: What would you say to employers who are unsure about recruiting a former offender?
A: “Educate yourself. Why don’t you visit a prison and meet with the people who are there? Employing a returning citizen is a good business decision. You will meet a mixed tapestry of humans who are emotionally resilient people. They will know what a really tough day feels like. I lived in a place with no handle on the door for months and months and months. If I had felt as low outside prison as I did inside it, I would’ve said it was all too much and taken drugs or drink. But in prison, I couldn’t. I had to be resilient.

“As an employer, I believe that if you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Consider your corporate conscience: what vibe are you sending out to customers, employees and the community? Employers who give people a second chance are empowering citizens back into society and helping them avoid tough choices, such as more crime or substance abuse.

“The punishment for what someone has done in their past has to stop when they are released. They’ve had punishment inside. I am trying to achieve the ultimate handcuffs to cufflinks transformation.”

Jazz’s first project with EmpowerAbility is to study the behavioural skills of incarcerated individuals, developing a comprehensive skills mapping assessment. He hopes to work with a university to produce a report about the invisible talent of those in prison, with the ultimate goal of running training programmes for returning citizens to get them career fit for a specific role in a specific company, and help them find an internship or apprenticeship and, eventually, a permanent role after serving their sentence.

“We are leveraging data and science to amplify our impact, steering clear of being perceived as a mere ‘pity project’,” says Jazz, who believes that supporting returning citizens to the workforce will enhance corporate social responsibility, streamline hiring practices, foster diversity, boost employee retention figures and curb rates of re-offences.

Hear what businesses have to say about employing former offenders:

Do ex-offenders have any qualifications or the skills needed to work?

“The guys on-site, they are just like everybody else that we come across as an employer. We find they come with a variety of skills and we ensure they are then given the correct training so they can go to work and join in with the team.”

Claire Coombs, Development Manager, Keltbray

Will they turn up for work if I take a chance on them?

“We have found that the level of retention of our graduates from the [prison] academy is higher than the level of retention of our normal employed sales floor workers.”

Andy McBride, Head of Resourcing and People Shared Services, Halfords

Can I really rely on offenders to be part of my workforce?

“Pret has been working with both Working Chance and Novus for several years to take ex-offenders on to our Rising Stars Programme. We see this as an excellent talent pool with many Rising Stars enjoying a great career within Pret.”

Nicki Fisher, Head of the Pret Foundation Trust, Pret A Manger

Why should businesses employ ex-offenders?

“We’ve started working with ex-offenders and people coming towards the end of their sentence because it allows us to secure a pipeline of talent coming into our business, at the same time as helping people start again as they leave prison. In the hospitality industry there is a nationwide shortage of kitchen staff – kitchen managers and chefs particularly – that we at Greene King are not immune to.”

Greg Sage, Spokesperson, Greene King

Ex-offender Leigh: “I was on the Halfords academy at HMP Drakehall and learnt how to repair a bike, give great customer service. I also learnt planning and resourcing skills ordering bike parts. I now work at Halfords as part of their customer and bike repair team.”

Leigh, former prisoner, now Halfords colleague

Ex-offender Tyler: “In prison I got my level 2 catering course in HMP Glen Parva, I learnt to cook and run a kitchen. I’m now a chef in a busy pub kitchen working for Greene King.”

Tyler, former prisoner, now Greene King employee

Source: www.gov.uk

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