Sodexo campaigns for more employers to take on ex-offenders

Starting Fresh bike maintenance work

Facilities management and food services group, Sodexo, has launched a campaign, ‘Starting Fresh’, to encourage more businesses to employ ex-offenders.

Sodexo currently runs Forest Bank prison in Salford and is about to take over the running of HMP Altcourse, in Liverpool, from June 1.

It provides a range of training to inmates at the facilities it manages, and is, itself, an employer of former inmates, with a target of hiring at least five per cent of appropriate job opportunities with ex-offenders.

The group has launched the campaign against a backdrop of rising vacancies and a shortage of candidates.

Tony Simpson, Justice Operations Director at Sodexo, 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.”

Sodexo has undertaken research within the business community throughout the region.

It found that 61% of Liverpool businesses say they are struggling to fill in excess of 10 job vacancies in their organisation, notably higher than the average of 49% for organisations across the whole of the North West.

Perhaps not unrelated to this, 84% say they anticipate hiring ex-offenders in the year ahead, a higher proportion than in any other UK city polled as part of this research.

More than one in five (22%) Liverpool businesses suggest that receiving apprenticeship levy gifting funds to cover costs associated with putting an ex-offender through an apprenticeship scheme might attract them even further to hiring from this community.

In Greater Manchester, 38% of businesses say they are struggling to fill in excess of 10 job vacancies in their organisation. Despite this, 36% say they do not believe they currently employ any ex-offenders.

More positively, though, nearly two-thirds (64%) say they anticipate hiring ex-offenders in the year ahead, although 68% of those asked in the city say they agree that ex-offenders could help fill talent shortages in industries such as hospitality

Also, 24% of Greater Manchester businesses suggest there should be a government scheme to incentivise employment.

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.

Venetia Knight, head of employment and enterprise at Groundwork Greater Manchester, which runs a construction skills training programme at HMP Forest Bank, said: “High quality prison education programmes which focus on ensuring prisoners access training to develop both core transferable skills and vocational skills that are needed by employers operating in the local economy, have the potential to deliver life changing outcomes for prison leavers and significantly reduce re-offending rates.

“There are significant skills shortages within the construction industry, and the expanding green economy, which is why we set up ‘Green Start’, with the support of the City and Guilds Foundation, to provide training in green construction skills for prisoners in HMP Forest Bank, which are linked with job opportunities on release.”

Sodexo’s Tony Simpson added: “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.”

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