The team here at Going Forward into Employment are passionate about two things:
We believe that the Civil Service must represent the people we serve and be a leader and role model for others in supporting those whose circumstances and previous life chances make it difficult for them to compete for appointments on merit on the basis of fair and open competition without further work experience and/or training opportunities.
It’s only right that everyone has the potential to improve their lives and that a negative event or bad choice does not have to dictate the path of their future, possibly affecting not only themselves but also the lives of their families.
In our last blog, we explained how we are collaborating with New Futures Network to discover the talent hidden behind the walls of prisons across England and Wales and how by offering a vital second chance, the Civil Service is drawing on the diverse range of talents and life-experiences representative of all our communities.
Today, we met one of our Prison Leaver candidates who has been successfully recruited through Going Forward into Employment. They tell us about their past and how, with the support of our scheme, they have a very different present - and future!
The following interview and blog is anonymised at the request of the candidate.
Can you tell us a bit about your past?
I’ve always worked in administration type roles before - places like banks and on Post Office counters. I was usually working with large amounts of money and that was my “normal”. Then a period of my life was all a bit of a blur. I found myself becoming involved with drugs and abused my position of trust to fund them. I was given a two year sentence and lost my job. This crushed me and my family.
You lost more than your job and liberty then?
Absolutely! No one in my family had ever been in prison before and I just remember feeling overwhelmed, it was like everything had been ruined - that I had ruined not just mine, but also their lives and from that point on, my life was over. I lost my job, my reputation and my freedom. My family, my friends - the people that I was closest to all had a very different perception of me. I was the cause of stress, worry and embarrassment for my parents.
While in prison what did you do to consider future life chances linked to work?
I decided that while inside I needed to work hard to remain positive and take any opportunities I could to better myself. In the end I served 8 months in prison and then the remainder out on licence.
What education/job search facilities did you have access to in prison?
I had the choice of labour that paid more, up to £50 a week depending on what you did, or education that gave you a basic of £8 a week, this consists of courses like learning how to paint and decorate, bricklaying, plastering along with getting your basic maths and English.
As I had already completed maths and English to a GCSE standard, I chose to learn painting and decorating mainly as my uncle was a painter and I thought I had more chance of helping him for work when I got released. I used my other education time to brush up on my CV, make use of the library and speak to the mentors/teachers on opportunities that may be available. It was my painter and decorator education teacher that recommended me to this project and encouraged me to take it seriously.
How do potential employment opportunities come about in prison?
I received recommendations from a teacher in prison but the opportunities for work placements or apprenticeships are very few and far between, in the whole time I was in there this was the only opportunity I heard about and with it being a new initiative hopefully more chances will become available.
What work did you want to do on leaving prison?
I was open to any work as I did not think I would be able to go back working in the finance industry again. I was expecting to do some kind of labour until this opportunity came up. I just hoped someone would give me a chance given what perceptions people may now have of me.
Tell us how the GFiE process worked for you and what happened?
The process was very easy and I was kept informed at every stage, including where I would be based. The people at the prison and at GFiE did most of the work. I was working on my CV anyway whilst I had the time to do so which was collected along with some ID stuff which if I didn’t have, the prison and people at GFiE would help to sort. I filled out an Expression of Interest form which the prison staff helped me with. The next thing I knew, I was having a talk with the department about my suitability, my experience, my skills - you know, the positive aspects of me instead of focusing on the bad stuff.
At least having the opportunity to put all that across started to make me feel like there could be hope again in an area that I’m good at and where I have a lot to offer if people can get past the “label” and stigma. I felt like I was being given that vital second chance. I really started to believe that my luck was turning around. I was even given help with clothing and shoes and I thought, “Whoa, these guys are actually investing in a future!”.
Once I started the job, there was an air of familiarity. I was back in an office type environment wearing office attire and I had been selected on my ability to do the job. Of course I had a case of the jitters, but who doesn’t on their first day in a new job? I was made to feel really welcome and I was treated like any other member of staff with no one knowing my past (unless I chose to tell them), apart from my line manager so they could provide all the support needed.
Did you tell your team of your history?
I chose not to tell everyone about my past/conviction as my experience shows that people treat you differently. Some people know - those that need to and those that I build a trust with - but the way that some people judge, a two year sentence can turn out to be one that lasts the rest of your life. Starting again, with a clean slate having served the sentence given, allows me, my family, my friends, my team - everyone, to focus on the skills and experience that I have and what I can contribute.
Do you believe your future has exciting new challenges?
Definitely, and those started when the opportunity with Going Forward into Employment came up! Having the opportunity to show that I was more than a number, more than my past was vital. That bad part of my history is now all triple sealed and locked in a trunk that I’ll always carry around but it’s something that I can carry now, I don’t have to try to climb over that trunk to prove myself. In fact, I have even been promoted to a higher grade in a different department using the usual fair and open method and the Success Profiles. The new department knows of the conviction, but by having been able to focus on my skills and experiences, both good and the bad, I have got myself back on track again. The people around me, the ones that I had let down, now recognise that it was a bad episode of my life but it doesn’t dictate who I am or who I will always be. Much like an athlete who has an injury and can’t compete for two years, they still have that experience, that knowledge, ability and skill. They just need the support to get back on track.
What do you think could have happened if you didn’t come through the GFiE scheme into the Civil Service?
I don’t know for sure, but it certainly wouldn’t have been the potential career I have now. I’ve really been given a second chance and I don’t want to waste the opportunity. I can see a bright future and I know what I have to lose, therefore I give 100% in all I do. I feel like I have something to prove every day and look forward to work as I remember how depressing it was to wake up and have little purpose in life. My family are all proud how I have bounced back and can tell the difference in my attitude and joy for my work. It’s a brilliant scheme!
So there we have it. An interview with one of our Prison Leavers who, with the support of Going Forward into Employment and the recruiting manager/department have helped them secure a positive new future.
If you’ve been inspired by our candidate’s journey, are currently reviewing your recruitment needs and are considering tapping into the hidden skills, knowledge and experience behind real and perceived walls, contact us at GFIE@cabinetoffice.gov.uk where we can start to discuss how we support you in finding your hidden talent.
We are also always looking for people to support our scheme, whether that be promoting it or giving some time each week to help it grow and provide the opportunities to support life chances for those who need them.