Prisoner and Offender Employment – Fill the Skills Gap

It seems the skills gap faced in the UK could be solved by prisoner or ex-offender employment.  Meat industry representatives have been meeting with the government to seek ways to develop the ability to fill their vacancies.   This is demonstrating a really positive “thinking outside the box” mentality.  Most industries in the UK are facing a huge skills gap – hospitality, transport, fruit and vegetable growers and now the food industry.

Covid and Brexit have had a huge impact on the UK’s job market.  The UK prisons contain a huge labour market that potentially could be used to benefit the country and keep prisoners and ex-offenders fully utilised in the employment market.  They can be well behaved, hardworking and willing to learn, receptive to the idea of developing new skills for their own benefit.  Many ex-offender are keen to avoid ending up back in prison so being taught new skills that can give them paid employment and an income is highly beneficial.  Some employers will have to overcome the over-riding negative perception that may exist in employing individuals who have been sentenced for committing a crime.  Statistics show that only 17% of ex-offenders are in paid employment after one year of being released. 

Bernard Matthews in Norfolk has long realised the benefits and formed links with HMP Norwich to recruit and employ ex-prisoners.  Other big businesses are cottoning on such as Greene King who are aiming to employ 50 offenders within a year to overcome the hospitality skills shortage.   Other companies include Barclays, Boots, Amey and Carpetright, Kier and Lloyds Bank. 

Prison has a strong rehabilitation focus aiming to benefit prisoners to be integrated back into society on release.  Training and development is quite key to this aim. 

The New Futures Network is a specialist part of the prison service that brokers partnerships between prisons and employers.  There are various different schemes available that employ serving prisoners, those on release of temporary licence and employment on release.  Over 400 business in the UK are benefitting and tapping into this talent pool. 

Apart from reducing the skills gap there are some key benefits for employers:

  • Reducing recruitment and advertising costs.  A vacancy can cost one and a half times the salary of a role to recruit to. 
  • Diversity, inclusion and social responsibility.  Hiring ex-offenders can increase a company’s diversity.   Many prisoners want to turn their back on crime and contribute to society.
  • Reducing staff absence.  Although having a worry that ex-offenders are not trustworthy research has shown that the opposite is true with over 80% are rated as reliable, motivated and perform well.
  • Increase staff retention. Marks and Spencer have shown that the ex-offenders they have employed aim to keep the job they have been able to secure. 

Whilst certain types of offending may not be suitable for a particular role or business this should not stop a company from considering the wealth of labour that is available.  Often a conviction has no relevance to a job that is on offer so companies should look at their recruitment policies being mindful to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974.  With this law after a while convictions may be spent and should not impact on employment.  Being spent means that the individual may act as though they had not been convicted after a certain length of time depending on the crime.  However, certain convictions may never be spent

With certain roles employers may have to make use of the Disclosure and Barring Scheme basic or enhanced certificate and applicants have to declare their convictions.   More information can be found on

Companies interested in employing prisoners may register on the Ministry of Justice website  It makes good business sense.