Adapting job searching during lockdown

Diversification and dedication. These have been critical for continuing to create opportunities for ex-offenders throughout the pandemic and lockdowns:

Job hunting can be a daunting task at the best of times, even for a seasoned professional. 2020 made the challenge even greater for so many. Nearly a quarter of a million people were made redundant during the first few months of the pandemic, while vacancies fell across almost all sectors.

Imagine then, the challenge of job hunting when you have a criminal record, no permanent home and limited access to modern technology.

This is what dozens of men and women, in our rehabilitation programme, have faced over the last year.

Our Release Potential team have been working tirelessly to place those recently released from prison into meaningful, sustainable work, as well as secure new opportunities for those who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Against the odds, they have succeeded again and again.

Breaking down barriers

“My job is to create opportunities, break down barriers and, often, bust misguided myths around those with criminal convictions,” says Darren Ray, Employer Engagement Manager for Recycling Lives Charity.

“At the ‘peak’ we had 20 people looking for work and the list was growing at a rate of two each day,” he recalls. “It seemed like an impossible task – a leaky bucket. We were up against it in an economic downturn and national crisis.”

Crisis is no overstatement. There was a 69% increase in claims for Job Seekers Allowance last April alone, and as the months wore on vacancies dried up. There were 278,000 fewer vacancies posted between August and October than the same period in 2019.

To make matters worse, many of the industries Recycling Lives Charity would normally target were some of the hardest hit. In manufacturing – for which men and women leaving one of our prison-based workshops have a wealth of transferable skills – available jobs dropped by 58%.

Flexible to change

However, there were still opportunities – it just took determination and agility to find them. In the transport, logistics and storage sectors, vacancies rose as the demand for online retail has boomed, while supply chains for the health sector were also positively impacted.

“We had to think outside the box and adapt – quickly,” Darren says. “We began to target industries such as PPE manufacturing, food production and logistics.

“It then became clear that while there were a lot of people unemployed, it wasn’t solely down to there being no jobs, but rather that many weren’t the right fit to work in the industries that were hiring.”

By being flexible and having transferable skills, our men and women have been able to seamlessly move between industries. For example, as a Fork Lift Truck driver, Robin was able to move into a role in the food production sector as it boomed.

In other sectors, our men and women were able to fill roles where there was desperate need. Katie returned to her previous career and secured work as a carer during the second lockdown.

This success was our first ever participant to move into the care industry following release from prison. It was secured as the employer was able to see a clear commitment to rehabilitation through sustained engagement with our programme both in prison and on release. It is a testament to Katie’s determination and the support of our team.

Remaining positive

“Sometimes the biggest challenge was remaining positive,” Darren reflects. “You can’t just throw the towel in. Ultimately, the longer a person is out of work, the more likely it is they will slip back into old habits.”

Work is one of the strongest indicators in reducing an individual’s risk of reoffending – our programme is proof of this. Year-on-year, more than 80% of our participants move into employment upon release, while less than 5% reoffend.

Despite the benefits of employing ex-offenders being clear, only around one in ten employers say they would consider hiring a person with a criminal conviction (according to the Prison Reform Trust).

However, the tide is turning somewhat, with schemes like Ban The Box championing fairer access to employment opportunities for ex-offenders. But at a time when businesses were already facing so many challenges, our team found the willingness to take chances was limited.

Darren adds: “We have to convince employers of the benefits of hiring an ex-offender. We present a wealth of facts and figures – our own success rates, along with the national statistics around reoffending and the impact of employment for ex-offenders.

“But there are multiple stakeholders we deal with along the way and all have their own view of what ‘justice’ and ‘rehabilitation’ mean. During the peak of the Covid crisis, this was only amplified as employers were, understandably, less willing to take risks.”

Adapting our model

“We collate all the relevant information on an individual and make the process as risk-free as possible,” Darren explains. By hiring an ex-offender through Recycling Lives Charity, though, an employer is assured of a good work ethic and knowledge of employment history as well as knowing the individual will continue to receive wrap-around support from our team.

“It’s our job to deliver on our promise and provide a hard-working, loyal individual who wants to turn their life around.”

To do so, the team adapted its working model – contending with more than just the change to working from home. The Employer Engagement team worked closely with the Support team to update criteria, ensuring anyone moving onto the job search list has all relevant legal and financial documentation in place, such as Right To Work documents, as well as secure housing.

Reaping the rewards

“Although challenging, the enormous effort has paid dividends,” says Darren. “And, actually, working remotely created some good opportunities too. Trying to arrange a face-to-face meeting with multiple stakeholders in large, often national, businesses was always a challenge.

“Being able to have an online call made the decision-making process smoother and swifter, ultimately creating more chances for our men and women.”

In total, the team supported 80 men and women who were released from prison between March and December 2020. Of those 68% have already secured work.

To learn more, contact: [email protected]

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