Recruiting is always tricky, whether candidates have a conviction or not

Published on : 3/6/23
  • Marking the launch of Starting Fresh, Sodexo’s head of UK prison learning, Steve Jones, addresses the concerns employers have when considering candidates with criminal records.  

    Part of my job is helping people into work. This means I know all the skills and qualifications that employers are crying out for at a time when there’s talent and labour shortages in so many fields. I know of perfect candidates up and down the country too – a recruitment consultant’s dream, you’d think – but there’s an additional consideration with this particular talent pool. These are candidates with convictions. 

    When employers talk to me about hiring ex-offenders, they all ask similar things. Can I rely on them? Are they a good fit? Are they qualified? Will they work hard? These are legitimate concerns, and it’s fine to ask. Because these are things we consider for every hire.  

    We employ many ex-offenders 

    I’m often asked how many ex-offenders work for Sodexo, and the truth is I don’t know. We’re a ‘ban the box’ recruiter, which means we don’t ask people to disclose their convictions unless the role needs a DBS check. What I do know is that 80% of candidates whose conviction shows up on the DBS check end up working here – that’s around 60 to 80 people each year. I’ve also heard of people joining us via organisations that find roles for ex-offenders, whether they served their sentence in prison or the community. I certainly know many have worked here for years, moving ahead like everyone else. 

    There’s a pool of untapped talent 

    Hiring is time-consuming at the best of times, particularly in areas where there’s a skills shortage. If you’re struggling to fill certain roles, well-established national and local partners can do the hard work for you.  

    Many prisons have dedicated employment hubs that can facilitate recruitment days, which for bigger firms can be ideal. HMP Forest Bank, for example, has 80-100 people leaving every week, and you can interview candidates even before they’re released. Just be aware that the closest prison might not always be your best option, as some specialise in resettlement and can offer more active support. To find the right connection for you, the government’s New Futures Network is a good place to start, or by all means ask us.  

    Prison learning is not second-best 

    More than 70,000 people leave prison every year, many emerging with formal qualifications they didn’t have before. I’m talking about nationally-accredited courses, delivered by experts, that demand the highest standards and commitment from the learner. In HMP Bronzefield, there’s a hair and beauty salon that looks like any other, where residents can work towards achieving NVQ Levels 1 and 2. Another great example is the Ground Work training at HMP Forest Bank, which prepares people for jobs in the construction sector. Prison-based skills training is a long-lasting investment too, and the stats bear it out. Prison leavers often feel a strong commitment to the hiring company and add real long-term value. 

    You can take small steps first 

    If I could ask one thing of employers, it’s to think about whether they need to know someone’s conviction history at all. Sodexo doesn’t, for about 60% of our roles. Of course, some can only be filled by candidates with a clear DBS check, but this can be determined on a case-by-case basis. Reducing the number of checks you need can save time and money, particularly for small businesses, and we must not forget that they are never a guarantee of a good hire. People coming into roles without convictions get fired every day.   

    If you’re thinking of employing ex-offenders proactively, or even just banning the box, I think it comes down to a sensible review of risk. For the role you want to fill, and where it’s based, is the absence of any criminal record your biggest predictor of success? Or is it finding people with the skills, drive and talent you need?  

    If it’s the latter, I know for a fact that there’s plenty of people to choose from. So if we can help answer some questions or connect you with the right organisations to support your recruitment, please get in touch

    Whether you want to visit a prison to see the skills training in action, organise an employer day to recruit a number of people - you can find out more about Starting Fresh here.