Sodexo offers SMEs cash boost to recruit ex-offender apprentices

Commentators say apprenticeship levy gifting scheme helps break down barriers for organisations looking to hire people with convictions

Credit: Kelvin Murray & appleuzr

Food services and facilities management company Sodexo has announced that it will donate £100,000 of its yearly apprenticeship levy to support the training of ex-offenders. 

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and non-profit groups will have access to funds if they want to hire an ex-offender for an apprenticeship post, Sodexo said in a statement yesterday (26 June).

Large companies that pay the apprenticeship levy, like Sodexo, have the option to transfer up to 25 per cent of their levy payments each year to other organisations to cover the cost of their apprentices’ training and evaluation. 

Victoria Templeton, HR knowledge manager at HR Solutions, said offering apprenticeships to ex-offenders was “hugely beneficial” as it would help tackle the recruitment challenges so many SMEs were facing. “Coupled with the financial support businesses are set to gain, employers will certainly be able to reap the benefits of offering apprenticeships, as they can train and upskill employees, giving them valuable skills and knowledge to become a true asset to the organisation,” she said. 

“Any additional administrative requirements are completely outweighed by the benefits it brings to recruitment.”

Sally Eley, head of the CIPD Trust, said: “It’s great to see Sodexo making this commitment to supporting people with convictions back into work.” 

There “can be many barriers for ex-offenders getting a job and accessing training plays a key role in ensuring future success”, she added. 

The move was also welcomed by Jo Easton, acting chief executive officer of charity Unlock, who said ensuring people have the skills and experience that employers want was “a vital part of allowing them to find work when they leave prison”. 

However, Easton pointed out that firms should have fair recruitment policies in place when providing individuals with the chance to become apprentices, as well as later on in the journey once they have finished those courses, to prevent them from being “unnecessarily excluded”. 

The announcement follows a recent study, commissioned by Sodexo, that indicated the apprenticeship levy gifting scheme may encourage more UK companies to hire ex-offenders. 

According to the report, one in five (21 per cent) UK businesses would be more willing to recruit an ex-offender if they could get apprenticeship levy gifting funds to assist with covering the training costs associated with enrolling them on an apprenticeship programme. 

The report also found that businesses in the hairdresser and beauty industry were most interested in receiving these funds to hire ex-offenders (24 per cent), followed by companies in the architectural, engineering and building sector (23 per cent), firms in finance (22 per cent) and organisations in the IT and telecoms sector (21 per cent). 

However, this number increased to 43 per cent among HR professionals across all sectors and industries who took the survey, “perhaps reflecting their greater experience of apprenticeships and the apprenticeship levy scheme”, Sodexo said. 

Nicola Inge, social impact director at Business in the Community, said being open to recruiting ex-offenders was key to unlocking a diverse and untapped talent pool that might otherwise be overlooked. “Offering apprenticeships to ex-offenders is an effective way of fostering this diverse talent and providing individuals with new skills and upskilling opportunities to keep them in employment and reduce the chance of reoffending,” she said.  

Employers should look to hire in line with ‘Ban the Box’ principles assessing candidates on merit before considering the relevance of any convictions, she added.

A recent study by charity Working Chance found that almost half (45 per cent) of employers would hire someone with a conviction, but discrimination was still pervasive. 

In the survey of 1,000 professionals with recruiting responsibilities, 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 only 15 per cent said it was corporate policy to turn down applicants with convictions. 

This comes after skills minister Andrea Jenkyns introduced prisoner apprenticeship schemes last year, offering prisoners on-the-job experience following a reform in the law to remove employment restrictions for individuals with convictions. 

The scheme places prisoners currently serving time in open prisons and/or those nearing the end of their sentences on apprenticeship programmes, which Jenkyns said would “plug the skills gap” for the future.