Almost half of firms would hire someone with convictions but bias remains, report finds

Study reveals one in three would reject a candidate with a criminal record as experts warn businesses are missing out on talent

Mohamad Faizal Bin Ramli/iStockphoto/Getty Images

Almost half (45 per cent) of employers would hire someone with a conviction but discrimination is still pervasive, a report has found.

The study by nfpResearch, commissioned by charity Working Chance, found that the number of employers that would ‘hypothetically’ recruit someone with a conviction has increased by 25 percentage points since 2010.

But in the poll of 1,000 professionals with recruiting responsibilities, for Working Chance’s Progress & Prejudice: Shifts in UK employer attitudes towards people with convictions report, nearly one in three (30 per cent) hiring managers said they would instantly reject a candidate if they admitted to having a criminal record, despite the fact just 15 per cent said it was corporate policy to reject applicants with convictions.

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Nadia Nagamootoo, founder and CEO of Avenir Consulting, said the research findings were encouraging but it was “unsurprising” that there was lingering prejudice in hiring managers’ decisions when it comes to those with convictions.

“There are a number of negative stereotypes or labels associated with people who have a conviction – that they’re untrustworthy, they lack values and integrity, they’re rule-breaking and potentially a personal threat to safety, to name a few,” said Nagamootoo.

“In order to see real change in the recruitment of people with convictions, organisations need to take a proactive approach by opening up new dialogue with recruiting managers to raise awareness of their biases.” She added that employers should create “actionable steps” within the recruitment process and be more open to “challenging exclusionary views and behaviours”.

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The report also found that there are 24 per cent more employers than there were in 2016 (12 per cent) that believe hiring someone with a conviction may be beneficial.

However, the likelihood of reoffending was one of the top concerns mentioned by 270 employers that participated in the study and indicated that they would not hire someone with a conviction.

Almost three-quarters (75 per cent) of employers that were hesitant to hire people with convictions said they were either very concerned (31 per cent) or slightly concerned (42 per cent) that doing so could harm their organisation’s reputation.

Katie Allen, DEI consultant and executive coach, said people with convictions suffered from “undeserved stigmas”, but noted that criminal records could still be a recruitment barrier for some roles. “A lot of hiring decisions will be dependent upon the position and there will be certain restrictions that mean it is impossible to employ people with certain convictions,” said Allen; however, she added that “many jobs are suitable for people with convictions and it’s the bias and judgement of hiring managers that are the real hurdle”.

Chris Proctor, senior consultant at Nacro’s criminal record support service, said it was encouraging to see that the percentage of firms prepared to recruit people with criminal records had doubled in the last decade, but added “it is still too low at only 45 per cent”.

“Employers are overlooking qualified, experienced and skilled workers without knowing whether their criminal record is even relevant to the role,” he said, adding that successful organisations needed to take a long-term view, looking for the potential offered by candidates from a variety of “walks of life”.

Natasha Finlayson, chief executive of Working Chance, echoed this, saying one in six adults in the UK has a criminal record, which means that a lot of “great candidates are being overlooked by hiring managers who are making decisions based on personal prejudice rather than judging people fairly and objectively”.

“This is counterproductive in the face of chronic labour shortages driven by Brexit and the pandemic – employers should be more open minded now than they’ve ever been if they want their businesses to thrive,” she said.

The research comes after skills minister Andrea Jenkyns launched prisoner apprenticeship schemes last month, providing prisoners with on-the-job experience following a change in law to remove employment barriers for those with convictions.

The scheme places prisoners currently serving time at open prisons and/or those at the end their sentences on to apprenticeship programmes, which Jenkyns said would "plug the skills gap" for the future.