Virgin Trains has launched what it describes as the first in-prison employability programme aimed at building the workplace skills that prisoners need to make them job-ready on the day of their release.

The three-week course has been piloted at HMP Styal, a women’s prison near Manchester, in partnership with prison education and training provider Novus, and is now due to be rolled out to other prisons on the train company’s west coast route over the next year.

Three courses, which involve around 80 hours of training and homework, have been piloted at the prison this year, with the latest group of trainees graduating on October 5. Of the 16 trainees on the first two courses, nearly half have been offered permanent positions.

The pilot focuses on “soft skills” such as building confidence, time-keeping and managing workplace relationships, and complements the skills training programmes developed in prisons by the likes of Timpson and Halfords.

The aim of the training course is to level the playing field for people with convictions and equip them with the skills they need to get back into the workforce on release.


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At the end of the programme, trainees are guaranteed an interview with Virgin Trains and are taken through a mock interview in preparation for the real thing.

Two years ago, Virgin Trains made in-prison recruitment fairs a part of its regular recruitment process and removed the criminal record declaration box from its recruitment forms. For five years it has been proactively recruiting those with convictions and currently employs more than 30 people who were recruited directly from prison.

Virgin Trains acquisition manager Kathryn Wildman said: “We know that hiring from prisons has meant that we’ve benefitted from access to great talent and we’re keen to see more businesses do the same.

“At Virgin Trains we want to hire the best talent no matter what their background and we hope that this course will help people with convictions find jobs and give a bright future for them as employees.”

Novus chief operating officer Barbara McDonough added: “We know the value of employment in reducing re-offending. By creating more opportunities for the women to find work, we can help them to build their self-esteem and raise their aspirations, helping on the path to a crime-free future.”


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