Ewan Aitken: Employers need to look beyond criminal record

Last year Cyrenians put more than 850 people into work, and 80 per cent of them are still working after six months. Picture: supplied
Last year Cyrenians put more than 850 people into work, and 80 per cent of them are still working after six months. Picture: supplied
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MORE employers need to look beyond the criminal record and recognise we all have a past, a present and a future, writes Ewan Aitken.

JOHN is a man in his mid-thirties who came to Cyrenians having been unemployed for over 2 years. He has struggled with alcohol which had led to a criminal record and separation from his partner but saw his children regularly. Whilst he loved being with his children, his sense of shame and lack of self-worth was compounded by the fact his unemployment meant he couldn’t give them all he wanted to.

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He struggled with our courses, regularly arguing that they were all a waste of time. Cyrenians never give up and with perseverance, John began to change his view, not of us, but of himself. He did a couple of building qualifications, developed a new CV and applied for his CSCS card, By week three, John was encouraging others, doing the ‘coaching’ he had himself received.

With our support he got a couple of interviews with employers who were willing to see potential beyond the ‘record’ and finally was offered a job. He left us with a huge smile saying “I am now leaving here holding my head up high and proud of what I have achieved”. The change in John was not the qualifications or even the CSCS card which he achieved just as he moved on from us, important as they are. It’s in what he felt about himself. The Cyrenians belief is that the journey from exclusion to inclusion is as much an inner as an external or material journey and John’s journey is a perfect example of this.

A key factor in John’s journey being one to a better place was an employer willing to see beyond John’s past and focus on his potential in the present. We all have a past, a present and a future but we often need others to see that too.

Last year Cyrenians put over 850 people onto work, journeying with many from often very tough realities. Over 80% of them are still working after 6 months. We partner with employers who help design our courses and are willing to consider employing people with a criminal record and we provide in work support for employee and employer.

We need more employers will to take that risk. A criminal record is one of the biggest barriers to employment yet without employment, the chances of reoffending go through the roof. We need more opportunities so others can know the change John has experienced thanks to the journey he took with us and with his new employer - and the dad he has been able to become as a consequence. Please let me know if you think you can help others take John’s journey.

• Ewan Aitken is chief executive of Cyrenians, an organisation which provides support for people facing homelessness or exclusion