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Ulster University and NIACRO, a voluntary organisation working to reduce crime and its impact on people and communities, have teamed up to conduct research focusing on the attitudes of Northern Irish employers to recruiting those with criminal records, the first research of its kind here.

Headline findings:

  • 97% of local employers surveyed said they believe in rehabilitation and want to hire for talent and aptitude, rather than write off applicants who have past offences but they also said they need more information to make informed and correct hiring decisions.
  • Type of offence was the most important concern for 82% of employers but 64% of applicants aren’t given a chance to explain their convictions on the application form
  • 83% said proof of rehabilitation would make them more likely to hire someone with a conviction, proving it wouldn’t take much to increase the chances of them giving someone a second chance
  • 33% of employers said a lack of support and information stops them hiring people with convictions
  • 85% of employers surveyed know someone with a conviction, and 61% have worked with someone who had a conviction before. Over three quarters of employers had a positive experience when working with people with convictions.

Key learnings:

Most employers want to be safe - they identified safety concerns as the main factor that stops them hiring people with convictions. Their main concern was the type of offence, with particular concern surrounding sexual and violent offences and the study ultimately found that safety of current clients and employees is employers’ main worry when considering employing people with convictions.

Most employers want to be fair - promisingly, 97% of employers believe that rehabilitation of people with convictions is possible, and 59% believe that everyone has a responsibility for this rehabilitation. Proof of rehabilitation would make employers more likely to hire someone with a conviction, which indicates employers want to give a chance to those who have taken action to improve.

Most employers want to be consistent - 68% of employers said they felt there is a lack of support and information available for employers. Having a policy, or statement of non-discrimination towards people with convictions make employers feel more informed and supported, and more confident in knowing when to ask applicants about any convictions. These findings indicate that having clear, consistent policies, and supporting employers to do so, would increase the likelihood of them considering employing people with convictions.

Michael Deane, Managing Director of Deanes Restaurants and one of the most recognisable faces of Ireland’s hospitality industry, believes that everyone is entitled to an opportunity:

“At the end of the day these are human beings who made a mistake and human error is a common cause. I will continue to hire great talent no matter whether they have a criminal record or not - I don’t have an issue with it at all.

“We have to treat individuals as individuals, people should be treated with respect no matter their background. I always employ people depending on how well they interview and how hungry they are for the job. It should never be judged by their past. Why does someone from a difficult background not deserve a chance?”

Michael took part in an online research launch event this week featuring the screening of a short film about the results, a stirring testimony from a NIACRO service user who explains what job hunting was like for her as someone with a criminal record and a Q&A with panellists including Professor Duncan Morrow,Director of Community Engagement, Ulster University and Parole Commissioner, Jonny Pardoe, Disclosure Specialist with NIACRO and Sara Neilson, Employability Manager, Business In The Community NI.

Jonny Pardoe, a Disclosure Specialist who commissioned this research from NIACRO and who is passionate about seeing people being treated fairly and being given opportunities to change the ending of their stories for the better, said:

“Every day in Northern Ireland, talented and hardworking people are simply overlooked by recruiters who could really use good team members like them. But, unfortunately, unhealthy stereotypes about criminal records tends to cloud employers judgements, resulting in blanket bans and tick boxes whose only purpose is exclusion. These findings emphasise the importance of the ‘Ban the Box’ campaign which seeks to get rid of the tick box relating to convictions on application forms and allow applicants to disclose convictions at a later stage in the recruitment process. It also encourages best practice such as the use of 'disclosure statements' and more training and resources for employers to help them understand criminal records and how they can make fair and safe hiring decisions. Throughout the survey, employers told us that they want to be more open minded and forward thinking and that with just a bit more support from organisations like NIACRO, they would change their practices. They want to be more inclusive, widen their pool of potential candidates and have a better understanding of how the rehabilitation legislation works.

“After working with hundreds of employers and people with criminal records and seeing common challenges and opportunities there is a sense of hope that the research will lead to best practice in recruitment for all. We will continue to work with the Equality Commission, the Labour Relations Agency, AccessNI and education providers and others to encourage best practice in recruitment.”

Key recommendations which have evolved from the research:

The research has made several key recommendations which have since helped NIACRO train almost 500 staff from a range of organisations on hiring those with criminal records:

  • Provide proof of rehabilitation to reassure employers
  • Encourage the use of disclosure statements to provide an explanation for any convictions and help demonstrate rehabilitation
  • More information and support for employers - such as AccessNI’s Risk Assessment tool, and NIACRO’s Employers Guide and Disclosure Helpline
  • ‘Ban the box’ - a campaign to get rid of the tick box regarding convictions on an application form which is argued to reduce discrimination. As this study highlights, most people don’t get a chance to explain their convictions on an application. By banning the box and asking about convictions at a later stage in recruitment, employers are more likely to consider the applicant, not the conviction.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility Recognition - awards for employers that demonstrate a willingness to support people with convictions and their employment
  • Positive balanced Media - positive media stories, such as employer testimonies, to help reduce stigma, and encourage employers to hire people with convictions
  • Clear Policies and Procedures - to instil confidence in employers
  • Work Placements - experience working with people with convictions.

Professor Duncan Morrow, Parole Commissioner and Director of Community Engagement at Ulster University commented:

“As a civic university, we focus our efforts on societal issues relevant to Northern Ireland and ensure that our research outputs positively impact civic society. So it is incredible to see this research, undertaken by Hannah, a student on the Graduate Leadership Programme, have a real-world impact on how a partner like NIACRO supports business leaders to make safe and fair recruitment decisions and supports those with convictions to make a positive impact on the workforce.

“From a personal perspective, in my role as Parole Commissioner, I see first hand the benefits of reintegration of those with criminal records both back into society and back into the workforce. Through this research and today’s event we were able to start a conversation with NI employers to give them the reassurance they need to hire fairly and with confidence.”

The research was undertaken byHannah Brown, who worked on this research project as part of the Ulster University Graduate Leadership Programme. 115 responses were collected from HR and senior managers from a wide range of NI organisations and industries including transport, manufacturing, financial services, construction, retail, health care, education and not for profits.

If you are an employer interested in recruiting a graduate through this six month placement programme, you can find out more information and complete an Expression of Interest form. Please contact