How Virgin Trains are giving ex-offenders a second chance

Virgin Trains recently launched a first of its kind employability programme, aimed at giving prisoners the skills they need to make them ‘job ready’ upon release.

The three-week employment and business course has been piloted at HMP Styal, a women’s prison near Manchester. Run in partnership with prison education and training provider Novus, the course will utilise Virgin Trains’ experience in delivering excellent customer experience as well as working with people with convictions.

It comes two years after the rail operator made in-prison recruitment fairs a part of its regular recruitment process and removed the criminal record declaration box from its application forms.

To mark their partnership with Novus, Virgin Trains have released a video highlighting the story of one of their team, Fas, who was given a second chance by the business following a stint in prison.

To understand more about why, and how, Virgin Trains are actively looking to recruit ex-offenders we caught up with Kathryn Wildman, Talent Acquisition Manager. As well as heading up the businesses’ talent acquisition strategy, including how Virgin Trains can utilise technology to improve how they attract talent, Kathryn has played a fundamental role in implementing their ex-offender programme and believes it’s proven to be of great value to the business.

"A few years ago Richard Branson threw down the gauntlet to his businesses to ask what was being done to help people with criminal convictions find work. At Virgin Trains we knew we wanted to find a way to hire ex-offenders as it sat well with the values of the business.  So we made a start and looked at how we’d be able to do this," explains Kathryn.

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"We’ve benefited as a business by having access to a talent market we didn’t have access to before. Hiring ex-offenders isn’t just a corporate social responsibility initiative or box ticking exercise, it has to work for the business too and it certainly does.  We’ve had some great successes with some of the ex-offenders we’ve hired going on to new roles and being promoted internally."

When it comes to advice for other businesses considering following a similar path, Kathryn believes it makes sense to remove the barriers to entry for ex-offenders - which can often begin before they’ve even submitted an job application.

"I’d like to see the removal of the box on most application forms asking about criminal convictions. It’s right to ask this question, but it’s about when in the process you ask that question. If it’s asked right at the start on an application form, most people with criminal conviction won’t continue with their application as they believe they’ll automatically be screened out," notes Kathryn.

"I’d like businesses to commit to trialling hiring one ex-offender (this is how we started) and then grow the programme from there once they have dipped their toes into the water."

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