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More Than Two Thirds of Employers in the Hair and Beauty Industry Set to Hire Ex-Offenders in 2023

New research reveals how recruitment challenges are encouraging employers to consider ex-offenders. The findings mark the launch of Sodexo’s new campaign, ‘Starting Fresh’, which will encourage, and provide guidance to businesses on proactively hiring ex-offenders.

  • 50% of hair and beauty businesses polled said they were struggling to fill job vacancies, with 34% reporting in excess of 10 open roles that need filling in their organisation
  • Despite this, 46% of business leaders in the hair and beauty industry say they do not believe they currently employ any ex-offenders
  • More positively though, 68%[1] say they anticipate hiring ex-offenders in the year ahead and 72%[2] said they would like to learn more about hiring those with criminal records

7 March 2023: 46% of UK hair and beauty businesses (considerably higher than the UK private sector average of 30%) do not currently employ any ex-offenders, despite half saying they are struggling to fill positions. This is 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 NetworkThe Oswin ProjectClean 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%[3] 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. 

When it comes to the hair and beauty industry, as part of this campaign, Sodexo is keen to ensure employers understand the training facilities and qualifications available in some of its prisons. In HMP Bronzefield in Surrey for example, prisoners are able to train in an Ofsted-checked environment for their City & Guilds Level 2 NVQ Diploma in Hairdressing or in Beauty Therapy, which is externally assessed. Read Emily’s story

Support on further progress

When respondents were asked what might encourage them to hire ex-offenders, 22% suggested there should be a government initiative which incentivises businesses (46% of hair and beauty industry respondents). 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%[4], 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.[5] 

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.”

Caroline Larissey, Director of Quality and Standards at the National Hair and Beauty Federation added: “I think the majority of salon owners will be surprised to learn that there are barbershops and salons operating within the prison system where prisoners are currently training to achieve the same qualifications as candidates learning in colleges and through training providers. Post-pandemic we’ve seen nearly a 50% drop in people entering the sector, and research we did at the NHBF showed that the industry is operating on a 60% vacancy rate. 

“Hair and beauty is one of the most inclusive sectors, excellent at embracing and supporting people, giving them confidence and improving their self-esteem. With many salons struggling to recruit staff hiring an ex-offender could provide an ideal solution and give someone a second chance.”

To help businesses with the employment of ex-offenders, Sodexo has launched Starting Fresh. There are 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.

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