See potential and give second chances

A close up of Richard Branson smiling, looking at the camera
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 20 July 2015

I’ve always believed that everyone, regardless of past mistakes, deserves a second chance in life, especially when it comes to employment.

But in the UK, there are more than a million people who have been out of work for at least three of the last four years. Many of them face serious barriers, like a drug addiction, a criminal record, homelessness, or time in care. In too many cases, these are insurmountable obstacles that make it impossible to find a job.

Take for instance, those with a criminal conviction. One in five people in Britain are believed to have one. And while over two thirds of employers believe ex-offenders have the skills, and well over half deem them reliable (57 per cent), only four per cent of firms surveyed by YouGov this month currently employ them. It’s an unnecessary breakdown of trust that is pushing capable, skilled people into a vicious cycle of unemployment, poverty, and recidivism. It’s no big surprise, then, that 46 per cent of people who leave prison in England and Wales – and 44 per cent in Scotland – reoffend within a year.

It’s particularly troubling knowing that ex-offenders overwhelmingly identify having a job as the best guarantee to stay out of trouble.

The first thing we need is a major attitude change. Employers should recognise that people from disadvantaged backgrounds often show enormous determination to find work in the face of significant personal challenges. It’s a huge, untapped source of skill and passion.

Richard Branson looking into the distance
Image by Virgin.com

Throughout the Virgin Group, we encourage our businesses to actively work with, and consider applications from people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Virgin Trains is among those pioneering the hiring of ex-offenders – an approach which could become a model for many of our businesses. The vast majority of the people that we have employed, and therefore provided with the dignity of work, are still working with us and are valued members of our team. The truth is that ex-offenders and people leaving care can be some of your best employees. They go the extra mile to secure results, tend to stay in a job for longer, have a strong commitment to their employer and lower rates of absenteeism.

Thankfully, hundreds of employers are leading by example, actively recruiting people who others all too often simply write off.

But we must encourage more businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, to see the benefits of being open employers. Looking beyond stereotypes and assumptions to see the skills, experience and potential of people, who represent a broader spectrum of the society your companies serve, is good for business. 

So, join the pledge to make a difference. From today, employers can sign up to a LinkedIn page to demonstrate their commitment and be part of the #seepotential campaign.