Ellie Price, about 5 years ago
"It has helped me in so many ways, my confidence has been boosted, I feel much more enthusiastic and work ready. I now have an up-to-date CV and letter of disclosure and a job on release." – StandOut Trainee
Finding a job on release from prison is difficult. A gap in your employment history can make it hard enough to find work, but when that gap is due to a prison sentence, for some it can become almost impossible. Prison can negatively impact feelings of self-confidence and motivation, diminished further by the belief that, as a result of a criminal record, many jobs are now out of bounds - or, if not out of bounds completely, that the disclosure of a criminal record will bring any recruitment proceedings to a grinding halt.
However, finding employment isn't just a problem for individuals once they are released from prison. In fact 68% of prisoners are unemployed before they even start their prison sentence. That's why courses such as StandOut, which aims to equip men with the practical tools needed to apply for work and help them positively and confidently re-engage with society, are so vital. Many of those who leave prison have a strong desire to get back into employment to support themselves, their families, and to break the cycle of reoffending. StandOut can give them the help they need to make that desire a reality.
Developed by Penny Parker and Jo Fellows, in partnership with the Spear Course (a programme working with disadvantaged young people to prepare them for employment), StandOut aims to help men at HMP Wandsworth prepare for release from prison by getting them employment-ready. The course addresses skills gaps employers have identified in employees entering employment following a prison sentence. The support that is offered ranges from very practical guidance to personal coaching.
Underpinning the course are key mindsets that coaches help participants to create. These mindsets enable participants to better handle conflict, setbacks and frustrations and allow them to develop resilience, emotional intelligence and motivation. Engaging with such mindsets increase participants' chances of finding success and staying on-track once released. Additionally, coaching techniques are used to build participants' self-esteem, raise their aspirations and help release their potential. Participants are also taught the soft skills vital in a workplace environment (teamwork, leadership and communication skills), as well as being equipped with the practical resources and skills necessary for the recruitment process, such as CVs, disclosure letters and interview skills.
The course lasts for 12 days, giving coaches the time to meaningfully engage with participants, learning their individual strengths and areas for further attention. They use a variety of methods and techniques to reflect and appeal to different learning styles and, although empathetic, are not afraid to challenge participants when appropriate.
“I have been on holiday for three weeks and I don't recognise the young man I have returned to." – Trainee's mentor at the end of the course
One fundamental element of StandOut is that the outside world is very much brought into the prison. In addition to the coaches, volunteers come in to hold mock interviews with participants, offering in-the-moment encouragement and feedback. Participants are also visited by representatives from companies that have “banned the box", who discuss with them their policies and attitudes towards hiring people with convictions, as well as the processes that are in place to support such policies. Breaking stereotypes and broadening attitudes, this part of the course benefits all involved and allows participants to build confidence and motivation by seeing that there are real opportunities available to trainees on their release from prison.
Two pilot courses have this year and outcomes show increased confidence and ability in the following 6 measures:
- Job search skills
- Motivation and hope
- Workplace and social skills
- Interview skills
- Communication skills
- Understanding and having confidence around criminal record disclosure
However, Penny and Jo certainly do not want to stop there. They are aiming to roll out the course in HMP Wandsworth, as well as to develop the post-prison support they offer. They are also looking to build a network of supportive employers who will partner with them to develop referral pathways for work experience and job interviews for StandOut trainees.
If you would like to get involved with StandOut, they welcome support in a number of ways. They are looking for volunteers who share their vision and are willing to bring personal experience of the workplace into prison to support their trainees by assisting with mock interviews and offering constructive feedback. They are also looking to partner with businesses that actively promote 'ban the box' to share their approach with course participants, as well as with businesses that are open to employing people with convictions and would consider accepting referrals for job interviews or work experience on release.
“StandOut has given me the tools and confidence to be looking for work. I believe being on StandOut has changed my approach to looking for work – it has been a positive change" – StandOut Trainee