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Dominic Headley, Nacro Legal Officer, reflects on Nacro’s work to support individuals with criminal records into work and the employers who can offer them a second chance

There are now 11.2 million people in the UK who have a criminal record, which is an increase of two million since I began working at the social justice charity, Nacro, nearly eight years ago. In my role as a Legal Officer, I have been in a unique and privileged position to support both individuals who are motivated to work but face immense barriers due their past mistakes, and employers who need the expert advice and support of our Employer Advice Service to confidently access this vast potential talent pool.

A couple of years ago, we met with colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions who were keen for Nacro to  provide specialist advocacy support for a large number of their clients from a range of excluded groups who all had one thing in common – a criminal record.

We developed a unique, innovative employer-led pilot scheme which consisted of a four-week employability programme for people with criminal records, which was followed by work placements and jobs with local employers. The programme also provided criminal record disclosure training to Jobcentre Plus work coaches and probation officers, and safer recruitment training and ongoing support to the local employers and education providers.

The pilot launched in October 2015 – around the same time as See Potential campaign – and was called the Aeneid Project. It was a huge success with nearly 90% of the clients completing the programme successfully and more than 50% gaining employment.

As a result of a See Potential employer event held in Manchester last year, Aeneid Manchester was launched in January 2017. Over the last 11 months, we have worked in partnership with key partners and stakeholders in the public, private and voluntary sectors to drive forward the See Potential agenda and develop a best practice model in the North West for recruiting ex-offenders.

With a number of employers reporting that they increasingly struggle to find people with the right talent, skills, abilities, motivation or mindset to fill their vacancies, and so many talented people with convictions desperate to secure jobs, this vital work with employers across many different sectors (including construction, the care sector, local authorities and government departments) has shattered many of the myths and misconceptions that previously existed about employing ex-offenders. We are delighted that such a large variety of employers have embraced the See Potential agenda.

Throughout November, we have been involved in a number of events across England and Wales that demonstrate this changing tide. We delivered our joint legal briefing ‘Safer recruitment – inclusion with checks’ alongside our friends at leading global law firm Eversheds Sutherland in Cardiff, Leeds, Newcastle and London.

Our work on Mind the Gap, a Construction Industry Training Board funded project led by LendLease, providing employment pathways into the construction industry for people with convictions, has moved forward leaps and bounds in London and the North West. We also took part in the Recruitment and Employment Confederation’s Inclusive Recruitment Forum, which has encouraged recruitment agencies across a range of sectors to also join the agenda.

On the final day of November, we are back in Manchester, one more time, to deliver the final safer recruitment training session for Aeneid Manchester. The jam-packed event will be hosted by our partners at leading global law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and we are honoured to have a wide spread of delegates including representatives from a number of government departments who are aiming to lead from the front.

This is just a fragment of the great work we have been doing in partnership with others to support more employers access this huge talent pool and shift out-dated attitudes towards the employment of people with convictions.