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Most employers would consider hiring ex-offenders in 2023

Six in 10 employers have said they would consider hiring ex-offenders this year, according to new research.

According to the research by Sodexo, despite being willing to hire former prisoners, the data also revealed that nearly one in five (17%) said they will ‘only’ look to employ someone from the ex-offender community if their position has been open for longer than six months.

This suggests ex-offenders are still seen by recruiters as more a talent pool of 'last resort', rather than one they actively seek to engage with first.

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Seemingly supporting this is further data which revealed that 25% of employers agreed they were worried employees would re-offend, while the same proportion agreed they feared for the safety of the rest of their workforce.

Almost a quarter (23%) also said they would not trust them to behave appropriately at work.

Speaking to HR magazine, Phil Martin, founder of Ex-seed, the employment agency for people with criminal records, said the data still shows old stereotypes persist.

“Unfortunately, we still live in an ever-more punitive society, which demands harsher treatment of offenders.”

He added: “Employers need to move away from the view that those with a criminal past are incapable of reform. What’s often forgotten is that much of the prison population have endured difficult lives.

"Some 25% of prisoners have come through the care system; more than 50% have some sort of special educational need. Companies have an obligation to give people who have made a mistake a genuine opportunity to rejoin society. Studies consistently show that having a job makes the biggest difference in terms of preventing re-offending.”

Peter Sage, author of The Inside Track: An Inspirational Guide To Conquering Adversity based on his experience leaving prison agreed.

Speaking to HR magazine he said: “From an inclusion point of view, you wouldn’t get companies say they definitely won’t hire ex-offenders, as that wouldn't be politically correct. But what the data seems to suggest is that the preference is for non criminals, but if a role is unfilled for long enough, employers would consider them, because the pain of not having this filled is greater than the potential risk an ex-offender might bring.

“What I learned from my own time in prison is that there are very few really bad people there. There are just people that have made bad decisions. An accountant who has served some time for drink driving is still an accountant. It would be a huge waste to exclude these people.”

Sodexo has launched the Starting Fresh campaign to encourage firms to consider hiring ex-offenders.

The company runs six UK prisons on behalf of the Ministry of Justice and Scottish Prison Service and has committed to filling 5% of appropriate job opportunities with ex-offenders. Between 2021-2022, the business had 162 DBS applications return as positive, but 133 (82%) of these gained employment.

Speaking to HR magazine, Tony Simpson, justice operations director at Sodexo UK & Ireland said: “Hirers know that they need to look at new talent pools – that’s just an economic imperative. But we also know they come at this from different perspectives; perhaps hirers have even been victims of crime themselves.

“What I think, however, is that there’s a lot of dynamics coming together. Employers want to do something about their social impact; while there has also been a drip-feed of the benefits of hiring ex-offenders. What will really be the proof of the pudding, is whether employers make a conscious effort to go into prisons and actually run job fairs.”

Martin added: “One positive spin is that the skills shortage could be a blessing in disguise, as it may force employers into embracing this talent pool."

He added: "Once these people are in, employers soon see they are loyal and hard working employees, because they know they’ve been given a chance.”

Sodexo’s research found that 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. It also found 43% were finding it difficult to fill more than ten current vacancies.