We have looked extensively on News & Views at the need for employers to be more aware of the talent pool formed by forces veterans (see here and here). But now, following the announcement of a major, new government scheme, hiring managers will need to factor in an arguably more challenging group of candidates: ex-offenders.
On 24 May, justice secretary David Gauke unveiled a new Education and Employment Strategy  designed to improve the employability of former prisoners. The Strategy will roll out across five, parallel initiatives:
i) prison governors will be given control of education provision, tailoring it to prisoners’ needs;
ii) offenders will receive training designed to meet local labour-market requirements;
iii) a new vocational training route – the Prisoner Apprenticeship Pathway – will offer guaranteed jobs on release;
iv) a New Futures Network will match prisons to employers to cut the current £15 billion cost of reoffending, and
v) employers will be encouraged to shift their attitudes “from shop floor to boardroom”, as the government commits to spurring the employment of ex-offenders.
Gauke said: “I want more employers to look past an offender’s conviction to their future potential. We do that by working more closely with employers to open their eyes to the benefits of hiring ex-offenders. But this is not just about creating a path to employment from institutions to employers, but about creating cultural change from within organisations themselves. I want employees, from the shop floor to the boardroom, to call out and challenge employers who turn a blind eye to attracting and representing ex-offenders in their workplace.”
That said, a rise of ex-offenders in the workplace would surely present employers with unique management challenges, particularly in terms of assessing conduct and honesty – and also not assuming automatically that a dishonest act in the workplace has been committed by a worker who has served prison time.
How should leaders work with ex-offender employees to safeguard openness and ensure that mutual benefits flow from the arrangement?
“We need look no further than the Timpson story  for wisdom on this issue,” says The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper. “The key-cutting and shoe-repairs firm has been recruiting ex-offenders for several years, now. CEO James Timpson – who came up with the idea – claims that the incidence of criminal behaviour among the ex-offenders he hires is no more extensive than among the general population.”
Cooper notes: “The potential for that type of recruitment policy to be transformative in somebody’s life is obviously huge. But it’s not just about giving someone an opportunity by offering them a job. You have to give them resources to be able to succeed at that job, because getting it is only part of the equation. If you’re coming into a job off the back of life experiences in which positive role models who can demonstrate the value of contributing to something larger than yourself have been in short supply, then you will have fewer resources to draw upon than those who have had those role models.
“All told,” she adds, “there is an interesting talent pool available here. If leaders can pave the way for offenders to make successful transitions from offending behaviours to thriving in the workplace, then the gains not just for the individual, or the organisation, but society as a whole, are potentially huge. So leaders should definitely have this talent pool on their radar screens – and should ask themselves, ‘What do these individuals need from us to succeed, once we have accepted them into our organisations?’”
For further thoughts on building trust, check out these learning resources from the Institute
Image of prison interior courtesy of PJ photography, via Shutterstock