Focus: People Management - Work placements for former offenders

Graham Willgoss,

A Leicester charity hopes to encourage organisations to offer fresh starts.

Apex Leicester is to trial 15-day work placements to encourage organisations from all sectors to take ex-offenders seriously when recruiting staff.

The charity, which helps people with criminal records to obtain employment, says the placements are an ideal way for employers to establish whether or not someone is suitable to work for them.

Under the scheme, potential recruits can turn to company mentors for help while settling into their new roles. Apex will train employees at the organisations participating in the trial scheme to mentor new recruits.

"It's good HR practice to have trained mentors for people who are new to an organisation to go to, whether we are talking about ex-offenders or not," said Ann Height, chief executive of Apex Leicester.

"However, when ex-offenders know an organisation is sympathetic to their needs, they feel comfortable applying because they know they are less likely to face discrimination when they get there.

"I hope the sector would be more understanding about employing people who want to make a fresh start. In some cases, ex-offenders want to give something back to society, so they will perhaps look for positions at voluntary or community organisations."

Dianne Gault, head of fundraising at the St Giles Trust, which helps ex-offenders and the homeless, said: "It's a good initiative, but 15 days isn't long enough. Ex-offenders can have been away from a working environment for anything from a few months to 15 years. They need longer to adapt and feel comfortable in a work environment - three to six months is a more suitable timescale."

Height said employers from all sectors should seek to employ the best person by looking at their skills and experience first, and taking their criminal records into consideration second.

"Ex-offenders should not be excluded by employers any more than any other group of people," she said. "When ex-offenders are given that opportunity, employers often find that they receive an enormous amount of loyalty from them.

"That's not an argument for employing ex-offenders. It's just something you get because they are obliged to disclose their convictions at every job they go for - they are reluctant to rock the boat and have to bring it up again and again."

Apex is holding a conference on the subject, Apex Employing Offenders - Smart or Risky Business?, in Leicester next month.

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