Getting ex-offenders into workHACRO is helping ex-offenders back to work with a number of initiatives
BBO Project Strive (Building Better Opportunities – Support and Transition Routes into Volunteering and Employment)
Project Strive deals with the barriers that stop disadvantaged adults getting into work and HACRO supports those participants who have criminal records.
HACRO has been part of the Building Better Opportunities (BBO) project since October 2016. Jointly funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and the European Social Fund, BBO is managed by Herts County Council. Each participant’s issues are different, and there may be a number of problems to solve just getting signed on to benefits: getting a birth certificate; sorting out a National Insurance number; finding a correspondence address and getting a phone number so that they can be contacted. The programme works with participants to ensure they know how to get a place to sleep, how to get up in time, how to work in a team, what an employer might expect, how to deal with disclosure of convictions. It’s a long list, and some participants have multiple or even all of these issues to resolve.
As they progress, participants are encouraged to volunteer for work projects, building garden furniture, clearing ground, basic construction. Taster sessions in plumbing and tiling, run by a local business give a glimpse of what skilled work involves.
To help ex-offenders:
- overcome barriers and get ready to work
- get into work, with better wellbeing and health
- gain financial stability, reducing dependence on benefits.
Many Project Strive participants are prolific offenders, often with substance abuse problems. Just over half of the 2019-20 sign-ups (29) have never had a job. Research shows that having good employment prospects or being in a job reduces the risk of reoffending, yet many find it hard to make their first steps into work.
Our impact – BBO Project Strive:
With a mix of one to one support, training and job taster sessions as well as volunteering activities – and a lot of belief from HACRO’s mentors – much can be achieved. Six participants moved into employment during the year, a further nine went on to some form of education, and four who were previously economically
inactive moved into active job search.
To 2020 Project Strive had supported 115 participants – 49 of them in 2019-20.
Tony has found me a job working for Watford council doing gardening and training. This has helped me better my life and no one believed me but Tony
Case study: J
Prolific offender with substance issues, on C2 (choices and consequences) programme.
• Digswell woodworking
• Barista course
• CSCS training
• Streetworks course (road engineering)
• Volunteered at hostel gym, trained as Sports •
• Mentor – now mentors at 2 gyms.
• Moved from supported housing to own home.
Aiming for: next level of Streetworks course; then full employment.
“Going to the Boxercise helped me to manage my anger better, raised my confidence and also sparked my interest in boxing again. Going to Digswell gave me the skills I need for future work. [HACRO Mentor] Tony has been brilliant. He has always been there when I’ve needed someone to speak to. He always gives good advice; I have a lot of respect for him.”
Case study: M
Conviction ended professional career. Lost confidence about job search. Struggled living on benefits.
• Reviewed CV and cover
letters for job search. Drafted disclosure letter
• Retargeted roles applied for.
• Encouraged to seek more challenging volunteer roles.
• Obtained volunteer position at substance recovery organisation using professional skills
• Invited to numerous interviews for professional roles
• Now employed at substance recovery organisation in a professional role.
“The project has done wonders for me and I have learnt new things I never knew. With [HACRO Mentor] Michelle’s help, it has initiated me to get into volunteering and it has opened doors for me to get a job. Meeting Michelle has been the best thing to happen and has given me the guidance towards getting myself back into employment”
WorkAbility is a work-readiness programme designed to be part of offenders’ sentence in the community and is located in the Stevenage Probation premises.
“It’s helped me with loads of things really. It’s a good course, it covers everything. It’s not just one thing. It covers money management, if you are struggling with other things it helps you build up your confidence”
WorkAbility Participant 2019
HACRO has designed the WorkAbility course specifically to help ex-offenders return to a full and satisfying life, while serving their sentence in the community. It runs over eight weeks with two half day sessions per week. There are two separate themes which run in parallel and together provide an effective ‘life skills’ package:
- Personal Skills for Life
Covering: management and securing employment: developing a positive attitude; individual beliefs and values; identifying personal strengths; writing job applications and CVs; attending interviews and projecting yourself successfully; managing personal finances; healthy living; stress management; self-employment possibilities; setting personal goals and planning your future.
- Kitchen and Cooking Skills and Food Hygiene Practices (leading to certification)
Covering: why the hospitality industry offers good opportunities for employment; food hygiene; health and safety in kitchens; planning and budgeting your own diet; using recipes and cooking a selection of popular dishes. Other courses such as customer service, health and safety and first aid are also provided.
We focus not only on the normal (CV creation, work skills, job opportunities and interview techniques) but believe we are different because we include: –
- personal wellbeing
- goal setting,
- financial capability
- customer service
- understanding what employers expect of their employees.
Throughout the workshops our service users complete a series of questionnaires to help them focus on where they are in life, what motivates them, and what they may need to do to progress. Regular reviews are also carried out to track their progress. We provide a workbook which comprises a series of thought-provoking questionnaires and exercises which relate to the session topics.
Our tutors are supportive and non-judgemental and create an environment in which people are encouraged to contribute to a wide range of discussions to help them focus objectively on their current work situations and what they can do to improve their chances of gaining rewarding and sustainable employment.
This leads to a City & Guilds Level 2 qualification in Basic Food Hygiene which can help service users apply for jobs within the hospitality sector.
The effectiveness of the courses is measured by both the participants’ evaluation of the relevance of the skills and knowledge learned (scores range from 90% to 100%), and equally importantly by the increased sense of overall wellbeing they achieve over the duration of the programme.
The end of course wellbeing scores averaged 25% improvement, as measured on the Warwick-Edinburgh Well-being Scale, and in all cases greatly exceed comparative scores at the start of the courses. Participants who complete the course usually earn both a City & Guilds Level Two certificate in Food Safety & Hygiene and a Level Two qualification in Customer Service.
Feedback continues to be very positive and the workshops are evolving to meet individual needs:
“Therapeutic and self-awareness; learning about myself; got me thinking about my future plans; sharing our motive; great tutors.”
“Being confident and ready to face the world in difficult circumstances.”
“More confident about job. More information about CV.”
“Communication and informative; I learned from discussions; thought provoking; learning how to talk publicly; informative.”
We are grateful to the management of BeNCH and the NPS for their support and we hope to continue to work closely with them so that WorkAbility becomes embedded in the rehabilitation agenda for Hertfordshire.
We are also grateful for the support we have received from the VINCI Foundation who not only gave a grant which enabled us to buy kitchen equipment and a second set of laptop computers, but through their subsidiary, Ringway, are supporting their staff to help with the delivery of aspects of our courses and will be considering some of our participants for employment.
Volunteers with business backgrounds work (through HACRO) as mentors at HMP The Mount on the Education Department’s Business Ventures programme. The course helps in planning for employment on release, particularly self-employment. This involves research and discussing and implementing Business Planning. More Information here.