We spoke to Jacob Hill, founder and managing director of Offploy, a social recruitment specialist committed to reducing reoffending and making society safer – by placing people with criminal convictions into meaningful, mentored and sustainable employment. Here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jacob Hill: It’s been a tough 12 months for us all, but it finally feels as though there is some ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ – as clichéd as that might sound.
I’ve been enjoying spending more time with my fiancée and our dog and hope that venturing out on daily walks will remain ‘a thing’.
It’s also been nice to see some of the older generations in my family embracing technology – although I really will be glad when I can physically see people in person. I already know it’s going to be hard to get my mum to stop WhatsApping me photos of what she’s up to throughout the day!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Offploy.
Jacob Hill: Offploy’s story began when I was serving a nine-and-a-half-month prison sentence in HMP Wealstun. I’d been caught selling drugs to try and pay off personal and business debts (accrued via my former company, The Lazy Camper).
Four years on, we’ve supported over 1,000 former offenders and 50 companies – but there is still so much work to be done. If we want to reduce reoffending rates and make society safer, we all have a part to play in offering opportunities – the buck doesn’t stop at the cell door.
How does Offploy innovate?
Jacob Hill: While we don’t expect every employer to start recruiting exclusively via the National Probation Service, we exist to educate employers on the link between rehabilitation of those with convictions and the reduction of reoffending rates in the UK.
As such, the key to our sustained growth lies in making a case for the positive benefits of employing those with a criminal record – so we’re willing to have those tough conversation with existing employees over their instinctive fears when it comes to working alongside those with convictions.
We want to use technology to scale our impact. Following the pandemic, we’ve further developed our systems to enable us to support three times as many people throughout the UK – with the same number of colleagues.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jacob Hill: In January 2020, I had the year ahead clearly mapped out for Offploy. I’d lined up a few social contracts that would help us expand our service and have a greater impact on reducing reoffending rates, and I felt sure it was set to be one of our most impactful years yet.
However, I never planned for a global pandemic to bring society to a halt.
While we don’t prioritise profit, we certainly measure performance on the number of people we help each year. Yet, despite the challenges, we saw almost 500 referrals to our service throughout the back end of 2020 and into 2021 – and that’s something to be applauded.
Former Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the Rt Hon David Gauke, has recently become Offploy’s first patron. His unwavering commitment to supporting the rehabilitation of those with previous convictions, alongside his progressive approach to the criminal justice system, will undoubtedly further our reach.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Jacob Hill: Yes, the pandemic saw all Offploy’s 12 employees furloughed – bar me. While it was an incredibly tough time, there were also moments of such grace from philanthropists and commissioners, which have helped us to return to normal.
The kindness of others has seen us impact more lives than ever, and I am confident that 2021 will see much more empathy from our peers across the globe. We can each continue to flourish – provided we support each other.
It’s also important to have direct conversations and be completely transparent – however uncomfortable it may seem. Whether it’s telling a room full of people you’re presenting to that you feel nervous or speaking up when you don’t understand the topic of conversation, this openness goes a heck of a long way, particularly at a time like this. Following the pandemic, people seem more eager to help others, and I hope this is something that continues.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Jacob Hill: I address any issues as soon as I possibly can to avoid worrying about the situation. I also ask myself if there’s anything I can do to alleviate how I am feeling – and accept the fact if there isn’t.
We’re often reacting to a sense of loss or rejection when we feel stressed, and it’s usually never as bad as you think. Thinking rationally, verbalizing the worst-case scenario, and working backwards to form a plan, is what helps me.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jacob Hill: As a social enterprise that seeks to support others, we only start competing when we run out of people to help.
Your final thoughts?
Jacob Hill: Reoffending rates cost the UK £15 billion annually, but a vast talent pool is currently untapped because of organizations’ previous reluctance to hire ex-offenders. It’s our job to help businesses tackle their recruitment challenges at the same time as addressing a wider societal issue.
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