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Virgin Trains gets prisoners job-ready with innovative training programme

ByDave Stopher

Oct 4, 2018


  • Three-week employability course launches at women’s prison HMP Styal.
  • Course will be rolled out to other prisons over next year
  • Train operator builds on more than five years of recruiting people with convictions

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

The three-week employment and business course has been piloted at HMP Styal, a women’s prison near Manchester, in partnership with prison education and training provider Novus.

It is due to be rolled out at other prison on Virgin’s west coast route over the next year.

The course will utilise Virgin Trains’ experience in delivering excellent customer experience as well as working with people with convictions. It comes two years after the operator made in-prison recruitment fairs a part of its regular recruitment process and removed the criminal record declaration box from its recruitment forms.

The pilot is believed to be the only privately-run training course which focusses on “soft skills” such as building confidence, time-keeping and managing workplace relationships, which are highly valued by employers. It also complements the skills training programmes developed in prisons by other employers such as Timpson and Halfords.

Virgin Trains has been proactively recruiting those with convictions for five years and currently employs more than 30 people who were recruited directly from prison.

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. The course covers topics such as team-building, Virgin’s values, customer service and problem-solving common workplace issues.

The training is aimed at providing skills that will be useful for a broad range of employers. At the end of the programme, trainees are guaranteed an interview with Virgin Trains as well as being taken through a mock interview in preparation for the real thing.

Three courses involving around 80 hours of training and homework have been piloted at HMP Styal this year, with the latest group of trainees graduating on October 5 in specially-made Virgin Trains graduation gowns. Of the 16 trainees on the first two courses, nearly half have been offered permanent positions.

Virgin Trains is now planning a further recruitment events at HMP Styal and is discussing rolling out the programme with prisons in other areas of the country.

Kathryn Wildman, Talent Acquisition Manager for Virgin Trains, said: “I’m so proud to be launching this prison training programme here today to spread opportunity and demonstrate our commitment to recruiting and training former offenders. 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.”

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said: “I’m delighted to see the launch of this programme as I believe passionately that through work, people can turn their backs on crime and start a new chapter in their lives. The recent launch of our employment and education strategy shows our commitment to getting offenders into work, and I want to see more employers really stepping up and looking past an offender’s conviction to their future potential. I believe that by supporting positive projects like this, we will help to make prisons places of hope and aspiration that propel offenders into employment, and ultimately help to reduce reoffending.”

Barbara McDonough, Chief Operating Officer for Novus said: “We are delighted to be working with Virgin Trains in supporting the women here at HMP Styal to build on the skills they need to find work on release. 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.”

Businesses who want to unlock opportunity can register their interest in employing prisoners and ex-offenders at offenderemployment.campaign.gov.uk.