Getting ex-offenders back to work

    London Action Trust’s NewLIFE Project assists ex-offenders in
    achieving secure employment by tackling the prejudice faced by
    people with a criminal conviction, writes Joy Macknight.
    At the premiere of Straight Talking, a film looking at the
    problems faced by job seekers with criminal records, actor David
    Soul and NewLIFE ambassador, said: “There are lots of projects that
    help ex-offenders but only NewLIFE works with employers to train
    them to recruit ex-offenders fairly and safely. NewLIFE is not
    about finding work experience placements or asking employers to do
    something out of a sense of duty to the community. NewLIFE helps
    ex-offenders into real jobs.”

    “It’s really about removing the stigma that people with
    convictions face. Almost every industry in London says it has
    difficulty recruiting and retraining talented people. And it is
    worth noting that all the research shows that reformed ex-offenders
    make great employees,” Soul said.

    Running since September 2003, the project operates in all 33
    London boroughs. More than 300 London employers have received
    training in the laws that surround employment of an ex-offender,
    but also in risk management to enable them to assess whether
    someone’s past offences present any future danger to the business
    or its customers.

    Phil Lett, employment solutions specialist at NewLIFE, said that
    employers must understand the demands under the various laws, in
    particular the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974). “The big
    demand for most jobs is the difference between a spent and unspent
    conviction for it is illegal for employers to ask about convictions
    that have been spent. It is very important that they are aware of
    that because they could find themselves in
    front of a tribunal.”

    It also makes good business sense, argues Lett. “London’s
    employers face a constant battle to improve their performance while
    coping with enormous labour shortages. Those that have made the
    decision not to exclude people with criminal records have found a
    rich seam of skilled and committed workers.” Reading Buses is one
    employer that has benefited from this project.

    On the other half of the equation, NewLIFE works with
    ex-offenders to prepare them for employment by helping them to
    examine their skills and talents and so identify their ideal jobs.
    The goal is to break the cycle of offending by catching people as
    they come out of prison or off probation and transferring them into
    employment. NewLIFE’s project manager, Brook Hayes, said: “We give
    ex-offenders a chance to partially level the playing field and to
    present themselves positively to potential employers.”

    NewLIFE offers clients advice and guidance ranging from
    preparing CVs and for job interviews to legal advice on disclosing
    information about their conviction.

    Jamie Steel, 27, a client who had been in and out of court for
    years but now has secured a job as a bicycle courier:, said, “The
    main thing is the whole personal aspect to the project. People
    helping you and giving you confidence about your potential, as well
    as the assistance with job searches and computer access.”

    But the support doesn’t end when the client gets a job. Kathryn
    Stewart, Marketing and Communications Developer, explained that
    NewLIFE continues to help with luncheon vouchers or transport
    costs, for many clients have to survive for the first month before
    their wages come through. “Our clients fight too hard for their
    jobs – we don’t want them to fall down at the first
    hurdle.”

    The project is part of the London Action Trust.

    • More at www.lat.org.uk/about/partnerships.html

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