Ex-offenders and recruitment - breaking the cycle for jobseekers with criminal convictions

How recruiters are changing the outlook for jobseekers with criminal convictions

Recruitment agencies account for a huge percentage of the UK’s annual recruitment activity. They were the gatekeepers for almost 1 million permanent jobs in 2016/17 and on any given day there are 1.3 million temporary agency workers on recruiters’ payrolls, according to figures from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC). So, if a recruiter decides not to put someone forward for a role because of a criminal conviction this can seriously limit their chances of gaining employment. 

Hull-based specialist recruiter Offploy, alongside Business in the Community, the REC and several national recruiters are looking to change that. Headed up by Jacob Hill, himself an ex-offender and once the region’s young entrepreneur of the year, the small but growing company has big ambitions that stem from the drive of their own workforce.

Ben Walker, Social Employment Adviser at Offploy, exemplifies what the company is all about. “My Mum was a drug addict and I never had, like, a father figure really. I was around criminal activity from the age of three or four. At about 18 I started really getting involved with the wrong crowd. A couple of members of my family passed away when I was 21 and I dealt with that the wrong way, getting deeply involved with partying and taking drugs. At a party with a few of the wrong people we decided to steal some money. I wasn’t expecting anyone to get hurt, but they did. I got sentenced and served 13 months inside,” he said.

Ben’s conviction won’t be ‘spent’ until 2022, meaning that even though he’s no longer in prison he has to declare that conviction, if asked, for another four years.

“It was difficult when I first got out if I’m really honest with you. I went to the local job centre and they didn’t offer anything or any advice because of my conviction. I fell into depression, suffered anxiety and went inside myself for a while. I found it quite hard. It wasn’t until my girlfriend at the time fell pregnant that I decided I had to step up and be responsible. That’s when I got myself a job in demolition then 14 months ago I needed a bit of a change and a recruiter referred me to this job at Offploy.”

Now Ben uses his experience to support people referred from probation, job centres and other charities into employment, working to upskill candidates and convince employers to give them a chance. He’s placing people in construction, hospitality, warehousing, administration and in work on the docks.

Ben has set himself a personal goal to put 500 ex-offenders into employment in the next five years. He said the biggest barrier was getting employers to consider people with violent or sexual offences and he understood their concerns in terms of safeguarding. He urges them to take everyone on a case-by-case basis.

“The conviction can sound bad but what if this offence was 20 years ago, the person has taken major steps to change their life and they’re not the same person they were when the offence happened… Giving that person a chance will change somebody’s life.” He said the biggest challenge in his job was building up people’s confidence and then having to let them know an employer had rejected them because of their conviction.

His organisation, alongside recruiters including Prestige Recruitment and Carbon 60, have signed up to Ban the Box – removing any questions about the criminal records tick box from their application forms and finding out about candidate’s skills and experience before asking about criminal convictions. “I think it’s a really good scheme. I just wish more and more employers would sign up to it,” Ben said. 

The REC has recently published a new guide and resources to support and advise recruiters on working with candidates with criminal convictions, encouraging them to raise awareness of the campaign and adopt its principles with employers. “Employing someone with a conviction is the best thing you can do to reduce reoffending,” Ben said.