As Head of People for Community Justice Scotland, I see barriers to employment everywhere but one of the most pervasive, yet easily addressed is dealing with convictions.
Having a conviction already makes life more difficult for the applicant so it is really important for the organisation not to make it even more of an obstacle. I find that this is the point in the process when people start talking about risk.
I look at the person. I look at their journey. I do not ask them the specifics regarding the conviction. I ask them about their journey from that point to now. To me, their journey is the important bit, what has been learned along the way, what has kept this person driving forward to get employment, what hurdles have they had to jump, how have they dealt with the obstacles, what has kept them resilient? All of these things tell me about who they are and this is a far better predictor of behaviour than looking at a historic conviction.
I grant you that this is an easy process when the conviction is 10 years old - research shows that if a person has not committed a crime in this time then they are as likely to be convicted as someone with no previous convictions. It can be a little trickier when the conviction is more recent and I know lots of organisations that have a policy that specifies a timescale. I personally don’t agree with this type of time-bound restriction as it generally means that an individual has to volunteer or work for free while they wait for that amount of time to pass. While volunteering can be hugely beneficial and rewarding, it does not satisfy the requirements of basic living, earning a decent wage, paying taxes and contributing to society – all of which might be goals that individual is striving for.
I often ask whose responsibility it is to give this person a chance? Who is going to take the first ‘risk’? I would recruit someone the day after a conviction if I believed in them. What you can’t write into a policy is making a decision based on your gut feeling. I understand that recruitment can’t always work that way, but I also know that a gut feeling can be more meaningful than an interview scoring sheet. We have to allow for flexibility when dealing with people because people are complicated creatures so don’t always fit in a box, or indeed a policy.
I think that a big consideration has to be how often you come across convictions when you are recruiting. You may view the first few applicants you come into contact with differently due to your own awareness levels, unconscious bias or conscious bias for that matter!
But your perception of risk will change the more people you employ who have convictions.
This is inevitable and understandable, it is a learning journey for us all.
The important thing to focus on is that you are moving in the right direction, that you feel supported in your decisions internally and you have a team and organisation that is on board.
And, ultimately, that you are doing the right thing.
You have to remember that this journey is not just about them, it is about the benefit it brings to your organisation. There is a reason that we are all striving for more diverse workforces - we know that it makes for a better, more efficient and more effective organization.
We understand that a group that is representative of the public is better able to reflect their needs. This is particularly pertinent within the public sector, and just makes good business sense in the private sector.
In Scotland one in every three adult males have a conviction and that is a huge pool of potential employees – make sure your business is not missing out!
"To me, their journey is the important bit, what has been learned along the way, what has kept this person driving forward to get employment...these things tell me about who they are and this is a far better predictor of behaviour than looking at a historic conviction."
Nina Rogers, Community Justice Scotland
Head of People