A young entrepreneur is spearheading a new venture to encourage ex-offender employment in Yorkshire and beyond.
The brainchild of 23 year old Brighouse businessman Jacob Hill, Offploy is a social enterprise established to help organisations realise the commercial and societal benefits of ex-offender employment. Having created a pathway to connect companies and candidates with a criminal record, Offploy manages the entire recruitment process from start to finish, enabling businesses to tackle this complex area of HR and employment law with ease.
The objective is one that is close to Jacob’s heart. Having been an entrepreneur since he was 16 years old – and notably launching the Lazy Camper brand – he is no stranger to the world of start-up companies. But in 2014, when faced with significant debts he couldn’t repay, he made the regretful mistake of selling drugs at a music festival. Despite no prior criminal convictions and his significant level of remorse, he went on to serve 294 days of a 28 month prison sentence.
It was during his time inside that the idea for Offploy was born. Jacob worked as a St. Giles Trust peer adviser, supporting ex-offenders with their professional development and progress into employment. But, with the help of research from family on the outside, Jacob soon learned that ex-offender hiring is far from mainstream.
“The rehabilitation revolution has been debated at parliamentary level for some time,” he said. “But the level of stigma surrounding ex-offender employment still prevents many businesses from getting on board. We’re here to make sure it happens.”
With 760,000 job vacancies currently unfilled in the UK (Department of Work and Pensions), Jacob is a big believer that the answer lies partly in ex-offender employment.
“A vast talent pool is currently untapped because of organisations’ reluctance to hire ex-offenders,” he said. “But with over 20% of the working population holding a criminal record, businesses need to think differently, especially if Brexit creates wider employment struggles. We’re here to help businesses tackle their recruitment challenges at the same time as addressing a wider societal issue.”
According to the Centre for Entrepreneurs, only a third of ex-offenders succeed in finding formal employment two years after their release from prison. This goes some way to explaining why re-offending costs the economy up to £13bn a year (Home Office). However, 68% of prisoners state that having a job helps break the cycle (Prison Reform Trust). In fact, businesses with successful ex-offender employment strategies report retention rates as high as 91% two years later.
“Many custodial sentences are served by good, honest and skilled people who have made a foolish mistake, explains Jacob. “They want to repay their ‘debt’ to society and build an honest, secure future for their families. As a result, we see tremendous levels of loyalty among these candidates, when they’re recruited.”
Jacob – who has also acted as an Ambassador for the Virgin Media Business Pioneers scheme – is now talking to a number of large organisations about their ex-offender employment strategies. Interest has been shown from sectors ranging from food manufacturing to healthcare.
Commenting on Offploy’s journey so far, Jacob said: “I’m pleased to see people are talking about ex-offender employment. Yes there are barriers to break down among business owners and their existing staff. But these obstacles can be overcome. The encouraging thing is that people are exploring what they need to do and the likely benefits they’ll experience as a result.”
Offploy has also already attracted investment for growth. Jacob has been awarded grant funding and support from charity UnLtd, for example, which will help cement Offploy as the ‘go to’ brand for organisations looking to tackle this complex area of HR. This came hot on the heels of private investment from successful Hull businessman Nigel Stabler, who offered ongoing strategic mentoring as well as the injection of funds, back in April.
Renowned entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has also shown his support. He hit the headlines recently when he encouraged businesses to do more to support ex-offender rehabilitation – a strategy already embraced by Virgin Trains. Branson also praised Jacob’s entrepreneurial efforts on a Virgin blog entitled ‘Everyone deserves a second chance’.