James Timpson is managing director of shoe repairer and key cutter company Timpson.
The company’s 2,400-strong workforce includes 89 ex-offenders who trained at the company’s prison workshops. Timpson is one of the speakers lined up for Business in the Community’s, The Future for Good Business conference at Belfast Waterfront Hall on Wednesday October 17.
Eight years ago I recruited a young offender who impressed me on a visit to HMYOI Thorn Cross. When he was released I gave him a trial and he’s been with us ever since and now ex-offenders make up about 4% of our staff.
We recruit people who we feel deserve a chance. I think the best way to avoid people going back to prison is to give them a good job. I find the staff we’ve recruited from prisons are among the best colleagues we’ve got.
Prison might seem like a strange place to go on the hunt for employees but I’ve found it a unique, interesting and very rewarding way of thinking about employability.
And it’s working for my business. So far 75% of staff who join us from prison are still with us after six months.
Our business is growing very quickly so we’re always on the lookout for more staff and, although there’s a waiting list of 300, I always have a vacancy for a superstar!
When it’s good, it’s really good. For example, Sarah: she served a five-year sentence before joining us then became runner-up in our Apprentice of the Year 2009 competition. She’s about to start managing a shop and everyone thinks she’s absolutely wonderful.
I’ve had my disasters as well, it can go seriously wrong. Drug debt is a problem occasionally, and personal relationships can also be a problem. We’ve had to let people go sometimes — we give people a chance but we don’t take any messing.
I would say that if you’re in the business of wanting good people to work for you, you would be wise to look for talent in strange places.
And one of those places may be prisons because from our experience we’ve found lots of superstars there.