In a survey of 2,005 UK consumers and 52 hospitality employers, Caterer.com found consumers are drawn to businesses which are socially conscious when hiring, showing employers can benefit commercially from recruiting underrepresented groups.
Almost half (42%) of consumers said they would be more likely to visit a restaurant if they knew it employed ex-offenders or the homeless, and two-thirds (64%) said they think that hospitality businesses can play a role in helping ex-offenders and those who have experienced homelessness back into the community.
This suggests that engaging staff from vulnerable groups can help to boost profits, develop a strong talent pipeline and meet customer requirements, researchers said.
This rise in conscious consumerism comes as the hospitality industry is coming up against skills shortages as the UK prepares to leave the EU.
The research found that over three quarters (79%) of employers are currently looking to recruit fresh talent, but 74% are struggling to fill the roles they have available. Despite this, only a third (33%) are currently connecting with ex-offenders to fill vacancies.
One of the main reasons for this is lack of knowledge of how to access this talent, with a third (33%) of employers citing this.
Alex Head, founder and chef at Social Pantry, a catering company that employs ex-offenders, said that this talent pool can bring numerous benefits to the workplace.
“I have always found that ex-offenders are driven, passionate and often talented. They are brilliant team members and will really seize an opportunity being offered,” she told HR magazine.
“Having a diverse workforce encourages cohesion and teamwork at all levels and it exposes staff to working with people they might not socialise with.
This provides opportunities for everyone to understand each other and their different journeys, which can only be seen as a positive.”
Employers need to empathise with and consider the difficulties ex-offenders can face when they enter the workplace, she said: “As an employer you need to understand the challenges an ex-offender faces on being released from prison and be supportive and understanding.
"You also need to set clear goals and expectations, as with any role it is important to be clear from the outset. No sympathy is required, just a little empathy of the challenges being faced.”
Head added that she would encourage all employers to consider recruiting ex-offenders: “Hiring ex-offenders has been a brilliant experience and I encourage every company to do it. At times it has been challenging as we are a small company with limited resources but my experience has definitely been positive.
"Over the last four years we have helped a number of ex-offenders into employment who would have otherwise struggled to get a job. This has changed lives and broken the cycle of reoffending.”