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No holds barred: ex-offenders and FM

15 May 2024

Amanda Vlietstra looks at how ex-offenders could provide a significant boost to both talent pipelines and DE&I

Ex-offenders – unsurprisingly – face significant barriers to work. Research by the Ministry of Justice suggests that only 17% of ex-offenders are in employment 12 months after release. Understandably, many employers are reluctant to take a chance on an employee with a criminal record – but, given the ongoing skills shortages within the FM sector, this is something FM companies are beginning to investigate. The Ministry of Justice research also found that prisoners who have a job to go to are 9% less likely to reoffend. In other words, finding employment for ex-offenders could not only help fill skills shortages, but it could also help significantly in the reduction of crime – a win-win all round.

One company in the FM space that’s exploring the possibility of working with ex-offenders is Cleanology, which recently hosted a round table on this topic together with Trailblazers Mentoring, a charity that helps ex-offenders find employment. What the Cleanology roundtable revealed was that the lack of support for prisoners when they leave prison - including the fact many don’t even have a bank account and therefore can’t access benefits – can help push them back towards reoffending. Charities such as Trailblazers Mentoring do their best to fill this gap, and one of their success stories is that of Lewis who, released from prison in 2022 after serving a sentence for drug dealing, turned his life around and found success with a career in recruitment. 

Cleanology’s CEO Dominic Ponniah said: “Hearing Lewis' remarkable story of transformation was truly inspiring and a testament to the power of mentorship and support. A big thanks to everyone who attended, contributed, and shared their insights. Trailblazers' mission to prevent reoffending and improve outcomes for individuals leaving prison aligns closely with our values at Cleanology. Together, we can inspire change, rebuild lives, and foster positive impacts within our communities. Let's continue to champion these efforts and make a difference where it matters most."


However, although hiring ex-offenders can help with skills shortages and provide a positive boost to both ESG and DE&I, it’s not without challenges. Soft FM company SBFM has developed a programme called Evolve to support people from disadvantaged backgrounds, including ex-offenders, into work. Talking to PFM, SBFM’s People and Culture Director, Kelly Dolphin, emphasised that the right level of support is vital for this kind of initiative to work. “What we’ve learned is that the most important part of [Evolve] is the pastoral support,” she said. “I don't think we quite realised this when we set out, but we've learned a lot of lessons along the way.” 

Sodexo UK and Ireland operates seven prisons in the UK and Ireland and has used its knowledge of this sector to launch an initiative, Starting Fresh, to encourage businesses to proactively recruit skilled and qualified prison-leavers. Started in 2023, the initiative has been very successful so far. “In its first year, Starting Fresh has supported 532 prison leavers into employment with a range of businesses within six weeks of release and 620 into employment within six months of release,” says Tony Simpson, Justice Operations Director at Sodexo UK and Ireland. “This is through partnerships with organisations like Marriott Hotels, Burger King, Iceland and others. These collaborations include employer days in prisons, enabling businesses to directly engage with potential employees and assess their skills and qualifications.”

Programme expansion

Sodexo is now expanding Starting Fresh beyond its own prisons. “In addition to partnering with the New Futures Network, Sodexo collaborates with more than 20 external partners, including The Oswin Project, Clean Sheet, and Novus Works, to remove perceived barriers hindering the employment of ex-offenders and promote their successful reintegration into communities,” Simpson says.

Like Dolphin, he is clear it can be challenging getting ex-offenders into work, ensuring candidates have the necessary qualifications for roles in facilities management and overcoming some preconceptions. But, he says, it presents a “significant opportunity” for the FM sector, particularly given the eagerness of ex-offenders to pursue technical apprenticeships. “We are currently looking at aligning Starting Fresh with FM apprenticeships, to further empower individuals with the skills needed for success in the industry. This synergy holds promise for bridging existing gaps and fostering inclusive employment practices,” he states.

Image: Shutterstock

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