Published November 7, 2019
Hiring Ex-Convicts and How They Have Become Champions
Oli Cavaliero, Head of Talent Management at Honest Burgers, led a masterclass at the Workplace X Summit to discuss Honest Burgers’ partnership with Working Chance, a charity that supports women with convictions to find jobs after prison and develop their employability.
“I want to tell you our story of how we’ve helped ladies with convictions get back into the workplace, giving them a second chance to support themselves and their families,” Oli says.
Oli begins his session with three key statistics to help explain why Honest Burgers decided to partner with the Working Chance charity: reoffending costs the UK £18 billion each year; a man leaving prison is three times more likely to get a job after leaving prison than a woman; and 55% of women in prison would have experienced physical or sexual abuse as a child.
Honest Burgers began as a street food company in Brighton, before opening a restaurant in Brixton in 2011. “We’ve grown to 36 restaurants now,” Oli says. “We make everything ourselves – 95% of our menu is our own supply chain. We launched our own butchery; we have farms where we get our potatoes. Everything is fresh every single day.”
Oli believes the success of Honest Burgers is down to its people. “It’s very much a people-first company,” he says. “We want to set people up for success.”
The partnership with Working Chance has allowed Honest Burgers to support women to get back into society after prison. Oli highlights the fact that many of the women they meet have had very difficult lives. “They’ve grown into gang violence because that’s all they know,” he says. “They’ve grown up into drugs – heroin addicts at the age of 10. They’ve had no choice. This is why we wanted to give them a second chance.”
While 53% of women will be reconvicted within a year of leaving prison, only 4% of women that work with the Working Chance charity reoffend.
After meeting someone from Working Chance at an event and feeling very inspired by their work, Oli initially visited a prison with the charity to help the women practice interview techniques ahead of their release – but he soon realised he could look for people to employ.
“We met 20 ladies and asked them about their skills, what previous work experience they may have had, and what they’ve learned whilst they were in prison,” Oli explains. “Probably 25% of the ladies told me they were working in the kitchen. Lightbulb moment – there’s a shortage of chefs in the hospitality industry. These ladies would be perfect to come into our kitchens.”
Honest Burgers has offered both part-time and full-time positions through the partnership. “We’ve had to tailor it and adapt,” he says. “It takes a while for people to leave prison and get back into society. They’re coming from four walls, where they may have been for months or years, going straight into a workplace where they’re surrounded by a brand new team and hundreds of customers every single day.”
In order to set them up for success, Honest Burgers established a limit on the number of hours they could work – no more than 20 hours a week to begin with. “Anything more than that, it gets too much,” Oli says.
The business also set up a ROTL (Release on Temporary Leave) scheme, where women could be released from prison for a day to work, slowly reintroducing them to society. There are challenges with the scheme, including the fact that the prison gates are only opened at specific times during the day, which may not line up well with the times that the women were due to begin their shifts. If they miss a curfew, they would lose their privileges to leave the prison and would have to work their work back up a number of levels before being allowed to leave again.
“The other barriers are personal issues,” Oli says. “They’re in prison and they don’t have the opportunity to buy nice, fashionable clothes. They’ve got the clothes that they’re wearing, and they have to go into a team and say they’re in prison. That might not boost their confidence.”
There is also a risk that the women may see someone they knew from before their time in prison. “They’re facing thousands of customers a day,” Oli explains. “What if they see a customer from their past life? What happens if they don’t come back from their break on time? There are a huge amount of factors that we have to consider to make it work.”
Honest Burgers now host employability workshops within their restaurants, giving women an opportunity to leave the prison, eat for free, do some mock interviews and boost their confidence.
The selection process has to be adapted from their usual interview techniques.
“These ladies have been told ‘no’ all their life,” Oli says. “They haven’t had anyone trust them in their life. They haven’t trusted anyone in their life. Sitting a lady down for a one-to-one interview is probably not going to happen. They don’t have much confidence – you have to break that barrier with them.”
Instead of a formal interview within the workplace, they meet the women at a coffee shop for a more relaxed conversation. “That is the first stage to build that emotional contract with them – that they can trust us, as we can trust them,” Oli adds. “We’ve been able to get a lot more information by doing that. No pens, no paper, purely a conversation with them to show who they really are, or who they want to be.”
It is important that the women can work in the right locations, away from areas that they may have lived before prison. “They might know some of their old friends visit North London a lot, so they don’t want to be working in North London,” Oli explains. “We have to be very selective, choosing the right team for them to go into, with the right manager who has got the time to spend with them.”
Honest Burgers ensure all of the women have a good work/life balance, with days off to see their families. “These ladies might have children in one end of the country that they’re not going to be able to see, because they want to be away from their past life,” Oli says. “It’s really important for us to understand how far they need to travel to go back to see their family; what days are best and how we can work around that.”
The business also helps them manage their money, because many of the women have never had a bank account before. “Aftercare is really important,” Oli says. “We’re constantly trying to motivate them and teach them new skills.”
The business has seen many success stories with the women they have hired through Working Chance, with employees developing their skills and working their way up within the business. Oli shares some examples of women who have trained to become restaurant supervisors or sous chefs, as well as launching their own special burgers and winning awards for their performance at work.
Honest Burgers has been nominated for awards at the Business Charity Awards and Caterer.com People Awards for their partnership with Working Chance.
Oli ends his masterclass with some advice to all attendees: “Don’t let someone with a conviction be the reason you don’t employ them. You never know about their history Always treat them as someone that didn’t have a conviction. When you’re in an interview, do you really know that person and what they do when they go home? You don’t.”