Could hiring someone with a conviction make a positive difference to your business?
Despite government research showing that 81% of people believe that those employing people with convictions are making a positive contribution to society, many businesses are still reluctant to hire ex-offenders. But they could be missing out on a vast talent pool and several other benefits. Organisations like Offploy, a not-for-profit company, help people with criminal convictions into meaningful, mentored and sustainable employment, and help employers too. Here, Offploy Founder Jacob Hill explains how and why.
There are more than 11 million people with a conviction in this country, but most prospective employers don’t get past the box on the form that asks about previous convictions.
However, a growing number of major businesses are rethinking their assumptions about ex-offenders. Timpson, Halfords, Boots, Greene King, Virgin Group – and thousands of other employers across the UK – see the merit in being open-minded, and actively recruit people with criminal records.
But, why does it matter?
Ministry of Justice figures show that only one in six former prisoners find employment within a year of release – but those who do are between two and two-and-a-half times less likely to reoffend. Giving ex-offenders the opportunity to reintegrate with society and establish a new sense of purpose is a powerful motivator, and it makes our society safer.
"Attitudes are changing for the better as more and more companies are willing to take on ex-offenders. However, there is more that needs to be done to reassure employers - and their customers - and make the case for the positive benefits of employing those with a criminal record.”
The Rt Hon David Gauke - Former Secretary of State for Justice and Offploy Patron
Hiring these men and women can bring multiple benefits to employers too. It makes for a more diverse workforce, enriches their skills base – thanks to the industry-level training many prisoners receive – and establishes their commitment to social responsibility. And when the average non-managerial vacancy costs £2,000 to fill, opening recruitment up to prisoners directly can help reduce overheads.
Evidence from Marks & Spencer suggests employing ex-offenders also reduces staff sick leave, too.
Practical tips for recruiting ex-offenders into your organisation
Deciding to actively recruit from the ex-offender population is a significant shift for both employers and their teams. It’s important to take things slowly.
An employer-focused prison tour is a good place to start and a great opportunity to meet some of the men and women who may one day submit a CV. These visits enable organisations to hear from those with convictions about their hopes and what they have to offer, as well as how prison life, work and education can prepare them to be successful employees.
Meanwhile, employers may want to hire the best person for the job, but if a hiring process discourages talented candidates from even applying, both sides will miss out.
Many candidates with criminal records don’t apply because of shame and embarrassment, as well as the fear of been unfairly discriminated against. That’s why it’s important to create a strategy that truly attracts diverse talent. But where should you begin?
1. Create an ex-offender recruitment policy
A simple line on every job advert or a dedicated website page outlining an ex-offender recruitment policy is a great first-step. A good policy should outline how and why an organisation supports people with a criminal record, when records must be disclosed, and how an organisation risk-assesses suitability for a position based on previous convictions.
This immediately breaks down barriers and shows your organisation is open to hearing from those who may not otherwise apply.
2. Advertise where people will be looking
Candidates with convictions will often shy away from popular, mainstream job boards because of their fear of discrimination, but there are sites where such talent is actively supported, including bridgeofhope.careers, New Futures Network and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). So consider these as an alternative to the most commonly-used platforms.
3. Who actually needs a DBS check?
It is a common misconception that any roles working in the same setting as vulnerable people, sensitive data or regulated positions need to be ‘Enhanced DBS’ checked.
This isn’t the case: in fact, there are strict guidelines about exactly which jobs you can conduct an enhanced check for. It’s probably a lot fewer than you think, so it’s vital to look at convictions in the context of each role and only conduct checks when appropriate, to prevent unnecessary stress and disclosure for applicants and colleagues.
4. Onboard like any other
For successful interviewees, the onboarding process should be the same as any other candidate, and information about a person's criminal record should not be disclosed to any colleagues except for those with a genuine need to know.
It’s important the candidate is aware of who knows about their conviction(s), as well as the reasons why they know. Providing this feedback directly to the candidate will make them feel confident that you are doing everything in your power to protect their sensitive information.
5. Consider ‘banning the box’
Business in the Community’s ‘Ban the Box’ campaign calls on UK employers to give ex-offenders a fair chance to compete for jobs by removing the tick box from application forms and instead asking about criminal convictions later in the recruitment process.
If you do ask about convictions, make sure you are asking the right questions. For most roles, it’s not lawful to consider any convictions that are ‘spent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA).
6. Win hearts and minds
Hiring and working alongside someone with a criminal conviction can be an emotive subject, and there may be some pushback internally, particularly at the start. Therefore, appointing an internal ‘champion’ to combat common misconceptions and fears can be central to the success of the project.
Of course, an ex-offender recruitment policy is only going to be as successful as those who are rooting for it and applying it. That’s why it’s important to obtain the buy-in of all key stakeholders and present the case for hiring ex-offenders to both colleagues and clients.
And remember, candidate care is key to any organisation’s effective recruitment and should be done through every stage of the process.
Frequently asked questions
Can I trust an ex-offender in my business?
One of the biggest concerns when hiring ex-offenders is about trustworthiness – from both management and colleagues. According to government data, however, over 80% of employers of ex-offenders have positively rated their reliability, motivation, attendance and performance. Risk-assessing a role and ex-offender can also help here, by keeping new employees with a recent criminal history away from obvious re-offending risks.
Will they be reliable?
Evidence shows that ex-offenders are likely to place a higher value on having a job because of a desire to stay out of prison and turn their lives around. This often translates into higher levels of motivation, loyalty, and retention – and continues to keep recruitment costs down.
Will the reputation of my business be affected if I employ an ex-offender?
Yes – in a good way! According to Ministry of Justice data, 92% of firms that employ ex-offenders report that it has enhanced their reputation and ultimately led to more contracts.
When do I ask about criminal convictions?
Hundreds of employers across the UK have ‘banned the box’ during the application process, only asking about criminal convictions at the interview stage, to ensure each person has a fair chance.
Does having a conviction mean a candidate has been to prison?
No. Less than 10% of people sentenced each year go to prison. Most will serve community services or pay a fine.
Do speeding points count as a conviction?
Yes, although it’s a slightly grey area. Although a straightforward fixed penalty for speeding doesn’t give you a ‘criminal record’, and won’t show up on a DBS check – if paid promptly – it still counts as a conviction. If employers ask about previous convictions, candidates must declare them for five years after the event. Over 50% of convictions are for driving-related offences.
What should I do if an applicant discloses a conviction?
It’s not illegal to reject a candidate based on their criminal record. However, we would say employers should consider a person’s character and conduct a risk assessment rather than automatically dismissing their application.
Offploy offers a suite of training and consultancy tools for businesses that can help you hire people with convictions, with conviction. Download a copy of Offploy’s guide to hiring those with convictions, here.
- Hiring someone with a previous conviction can help your business to fill skills gaps and keep recruitment costs down, enhance your reputation and give ex-offenders another chance
- For best results, get people in your business onboard with plans to hire ex-offenders and develop a strategy to remove barriers from your recruitment process
- Take a look at Offploy's guide to hiring those with convictions: https://www.offploy.org/employersguide
- For more helpful content on running your business, head over to the UMi platform: https://www.weareumi.co.uk/webapp/running-a-business/building-a-great-business/