One in three (30%) UK businesses in the private sector do not currently employ any ex-offenders, despite the majority (62%) saying they are struggling to fill positions and 43% finding it difficult to fill in excess of ten current vacancies.
That’s according to a new study commissioned by Sodexo, the food services and facilities management business which runs six UK prisons on behalf of the Ministry of Justice and Scottish Prison Service.
The study sought to understand the extent to which prison-leavers and ex-offenders who have not served custodial sentences have the same employment opportunities as other job seekers.
Launching the campaign ‘Starting Fresh’ today, the organisation is collaborating with partners including New Futures Network, The Oswin Project, Clean Sheet and Novus Works to help remove the perceived barriers associated with the employment of ex-offenders, which hold back the reintegration of people into communities.
Sodexo, which itself is a Ban the Box employer, commissioned research of 1,000 owners and senior leaders with hiring responsibilities across British businesses, finding nearly two thirds (61%) will be hiring ex-offenders in 2023, while 21%2 say they will not.
When asked about their greatest concerns, one quarter (25%) agreed they were worried employees would re-offend, and the same proportion agreed they feared for the safety of the rest of their workforce (25%). More than one in five (23%) agreed that they wouldn’t trust them to behave appropriately at work.
More positively, as the UK grapples with a talent shortage, many businesses this year said they are investing in training for their HR teams to ensure ex-offenders are supported in the company (40%). Almost half (46%) said that supporting their wider community was important during this time, and one of the reasons why they’d be hiring people with criminal records.
The research found a cross sample of industry leaders believed ex-offenders could help to fill shortages in specific areas such as food pickers and delivery drivers in farming (62%), and talent shortages in hospitality (57%).
When respondents were asked what might encourage them to hire ex-offenders, 22% suggested there should be a government initiative which incentivises businesses. A fifth (20%) suggested an initiative giving businesses a target for hiring ex-offenders, and 20% said a need to fill crucial skills gaps would force them to look at individuals with criminal records.
According to the UK government, though the proportion of prison-leavers who were employed at six months from their release rose by almost two thirds between April 2021 and March 2022 to 23% , this must improve.
Sodexo is itself committed to filling 5% of appropriate job opportunities with ex-offenders. During 2021 and 2022, the business had 162 DBS applications return as positive, 133 (82%) of these went on to gain employment.
The facilities management and food services company, which employs more than 30,000 people in the UK and Ireland, knows both from its own experience looking after a prison population of over 6,000 people across six prisons, with a commitment to rehabilitation, and as a proactive employer of ex-offenders, how critically important it is for both the individual and the wider community to support those with a criminal history.
Statistically, ex-offenders who get a job are less likely to re-offend, while 81% of consumers believe businesses employing ex-offenders are making a positive contribution to society.
Commenting on the findings and launch of Starting Fresh Tony Simpson, Justice Operations Director at Sodexo UK & Ireland said: “While not all ex-offenders are prison-leavers, an important aspect of this campaign is to help employers understand the quality of learning which takes place in prison. Nearly 50,000 people leave prison every year, many emerging with formal qualifications they didn’t have before.
“Prisoners at the sites we manage are prepared to be job-ready for the opportunities in the outside world, whether that be in IT support, cleaning, catering, hospitality or hairdressing and beauty.
“It can be a win-win situation because there is a huge skills shortage in many UK sectors, and we believe ex-offenders could absolutely help to plug some of these gaps, while providing a more stable and secure income, and a better future, for the individual.
“It’s positive to see the majority of businesses suggesting that they will employ from this largely untapped talent pool in 2023.
Starting Fresh is not just about helping employers understand the valued contribution ex-offenders can make to their business, but to also encourage them to proactively engage with our prisons and our partners to start the hiring process with prison-leavers.
“We have more to do, and we want to start new conversations about how we share our experience and learn from others as part of this campaign.”
Kate Nicholls OBE, CEO UK Hospitality added: “Most hospitality businesses cannot currently operate at full capacity due to ongoing labour shortages. Collectively, the industry is turning away £25 billion of potential revenue a year, with huge consequences for the Treasury. As such, hospitality employers cannot afford to turn their back on any talent pipeline that could provide vital resource. The issue is that employers don’t know how to access at scale the volume of recruits – prison leavers and other ex-offenders – potentially available to them. It’s great, therefore, to see Sodexo launch Starting Fresh which will really help demystify the process.”
To help businesses with the employment of ex-offenders, Sodexo has launched Starting Fresh, an online hub with resources for employers seeking to discover the underutilised community of people with criminal backgrounds and support them in the workplace, as well as case studies of what impact this has had on the companies and individuals involved.
Sodexo is also using this campaign to let employers know they are welcome to visit their prisons if they are interested in offering opportunities on release. Organisations with multiple job opportunities can even run employer days in the prisons.