Virgin Trains launches prison employability training programme

Virgin Trains has launched the first in-prison employability training programme aimed at building the skills prisoners will need to make them job-ready on the day of 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.

The pilot is believed to be the only privately-run training course which focuses on ‘soft skills’ such as building confidence, time-keeping and managing workplace relationships, which are highly valued by employers. It also complements the skills training programmes developed in prisons by other employers such as Timpson and Halfords.

The aim of the training course is to level the playing field for people with convictions and equip them with the skills they need to get back into the workforce on release. It covers topics such as team-building, Virgin values, customer service and problem-solving common workplace issues. While the course is aimed at providing skills that will be useful for a broad range of employers, trainees are guaranteed an interview with Virgin Trains on completing the programme.

“We know that hiring from prisons has meant that we’ve benefitted from access to great talent and we’re keen to see more businesses do the same,” Virgin Trains talent acquisition manager, Kathryn Wildman, said. “At Virgin Trains we want to hire the best talent no matter what their background and we hope that this course will help people with convictions find jobs and give a bright future for them as employees.”

Of the 16 trainees on the first two courses piloted at HMP Styal, nearly half of them have been offered permanent positions. Virgin Trains is now planning further recruitment events at the prison and is discussing rolling out the programme with prisons across the country.

“I’m delighted to see the launch of this programmes as I believe passionately that through work, people can turn their backs on crime and start a new chapter in their lives,” Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said. “I believe that by supporting positive projects like this, we will help to make prisons places of hope and aspiration that propel offenders into employment, and ultimately help to reduce reoffending.”

For the last five years, Virgin Trains has been proactively recruiting those with convictions and currently employs more than 30 people who were recruited directly from prison. Read more about breaking the barriers to employment and why Richard Branson thinks second chances are good for us all

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