Integrating ex-offenders into the workforce feels like an activity industry leaders applaud others for doing, but are rarely prepared to commit to themselves. It is the business equivalent of heaping praise on the housemate who has tidied up after a big party.

Tim Lowe

Tim Lowe

Timpson, Greggs and HSS Hire are firms in different sectors that have made impressive commitments to inclusive employment opportunities for ex-offenders, and are admired for doing so. Yet according to government statistics, only 17% of ex-offenders manage to achieve employment within a year of release, indicating that there is insufficient means to reintegrate this often-neglected group back into society at any meaningful scale.

For any employer, this topic will generate questions and reservations. LOWE’s training and employment programme for ex-offenders has been running for two years, which provides a reasonable timeframe for reflection. Overall, the experience has been a hugely positive one, and today, 50% of our maintenance team are ex-offenders.

The benefits of this are being seen across our business, not as altruism, but in terms of meaningful productivity, access to a new talent pool, and an energised, wider team who draw inspiration from working alongside colleagues who have turned their lives around. However, careful consideration was taken before initiating the programme.

In the current economic climate, the business case is compelling. Following Brexit, there is an urgent need for low-skilled labour, with businesses competing to find a capable and dedicated workforce to fill manual job roles. Herein lies a huge untapped opportunity to open employment to a pool of British workers eager to enter the job market.

By harnessing an ex-offender’s skillset and determination to rebuild their life, businesses can simultaneously address their labour needs while contributing to reducing recidivism rates. No matter your political persuasion, a ‘Brexit benefit’ to be proud of is that it has prompted many to offer opportunities to a neglected area of our society and decrease re-offending in the process.

Employees from a prison background are not necessarily limited to low-level labour either. One of our recruits has made extraordinary strides in under two years, going from apprentice level to now managing entire development sites and a small team. What has struck me most about his rise is not just his personal determination and achievements in building a new life, but the motivational impact this has had across the company to witness a colleague achieve far-reaching career goals - not to mention the impetus it has given team members from similar backgrounds to follow his path.

Support from our clients has also been encouraging, an aspect hesitant employers may consider. This experience is in line with a government’s study that found 92% of employers’ diverse workforces had enhanced their reputation and helped to win new contracts, and that 81% of people think businesses employing ex-offenders are making a positive contribution to society.

The benefit to society is not something that will be seen on a financial bottom line or easily quantifiable in an environmental, social and governance (ESG) report. However, it is a hugely important part of the overall picture. By providing ex-offenders with gainful employment, the employer becomes a vital link in their journey towards rehabilitation and reintegration, thus empowering ex-offenders to break the cycle of re-offending, leading to reduced crime rates and safer communities.

Our ex-offender employees have largely come from Brixton Prison, putting our programme at the heart of the community. Brixton-based charity Bounce Back provides training skills to inmates nearing the end of their sentences and connect them with jobs upon release. All businesses must play their part in positively shaping the communities in which they operate, and far-reaching change can be achieved, even in overlooked areas such as ex-offender rehabilitation.

While there have been positive outcomes, it hasn’t all been rosy. Not everyone taken on has been a success; the hiring process can be slow; and dedicated extra resources have been needed for training programmes. However, these factors are an investment from which huge rewards have come.

As LOWE can testify, the benefits of employing ex-offenders are three-fold; there are gains for the company, a positive impact on the local community, and a wider benefit to the UK economy in plugging employment gaps. Helping an ex-offender to positively rebuild their life through meaningful employment is undoubtedly an admirable thing that businesses can do. I encourage more employers to take the leap and start enjoying the benefits for themselves.

Tim Lowe is founder and director of The LOWE Group