Are ex-offenders the key to the skills crisis?

Are ex-offenders the key to the skills crisis?

Are ex-offenders the key to the skills crisis?

The majority of UK businesses (91%) are struggling to find skilled staff. This is creating a skills shortage that is costing the UK economy £6.3 billion a year . Could hiring ex-offenders fix the skills shortage?

The majority of UK businesses (91%) are struggling to find skilled staff. This is creating a skills shortage that is costing the UK economy £6.3 billion a year.

The construction industry in particular has felt the effects of the skills crisis. According to the CITB’s Construction Skills Network report, the UK will need 158,000 additional construction workers to meet hiring demand over the next five years. This is due to an ageing workforce, not enough new talent going into the industry and the overseas talent pool reducing due to Brexit uncertainties.

One area in which untapped talent can be found is with ex-offenders, people who are quite often (rightly or wrongly) discriminated against when it comes to securing work.

Could hiring ex-offenders fix the skills shortage?

There are over eleven million people in the UK with a conviction, many of these are discriminated against and don’t even get to the interview stage because of the application form question.

75% of employers admit discriminating against applicants with a criminal conviction5

Ban the Box

Ban the Box is a campaign which asks UK employers (not just in construction) to remove the criminal conviction tick box from job application. The aim is to reduce the number of ex-offenders having their application immediately discarded due to preconceptions of what an ex-offender would be like as an employee.

There are many benefits to this such as having access to a larger, more diverse talent pool, which could not only address skill shortages, but also improve diversity within a company. Giving ex-offenders an equal chance of employment can increase employee loyalty, with one national high street brand reporting an 83% retention rate for ex-offenders, which is higher than that of the rest of their workforce. It’s also great for improving the reputation of a company; 65% of organisations who promote their efforts to hire ex-offenders have reported a positive reaction. Removing the conviction tick box from job application forms can be tied in neatly with a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) manifesto, with construction heavy-hitters such as Kier, Costain and Interserve on board to name a few.

Out of the 850,000 jobs covered by Ban the Box, only 14% of them are in the construction industry. This leaves a lot of scope for more construction employers to sign up and improve their chances of finding the talent they need.


Construction training

According to a report by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ); ex-offenders who don’t secure a job within 12 months of leaving custody are more likely to re-offend.

Re-offending costs the UK approximately £15 billion a year.

The MoJ are trying to reduce re-offending rates by training ex-offenders to enter the construction industry. There are 150 prisons in the UK, with half of them offering construction training courses. A charity and training company ‘Bounce Back’ co-ordinate a training programme at HMP Brixton where around 300 prisoners take part in one of five construction courses: CSCS, painting and decorating, scaffolding, drylining, and health and safety. 

Every year around 240 prisoners will leave HMP Brixton with a qualification. The MoJ estimates that around 2,000 prisoners did construction training courses in the 2017/18. academic year.



With the massive skill shortages currently in the construction industry, these shortages are only expected to get worse following Brexit and the reduced flow of overseas talent. The Ban the Box campaign is helping to give ex-offenders the chance for a fresh start by removing the barriers in the recruitment process. This in turn benefits construction companies by plugging skill gaps, improving their company reputation, while at the same time contributing positively to the local community. The construction training courses being offered at prisons such as HMP Brixton are not only providing new skills or upskilling people, but also creating an additional source of untapped talent. Between these two campaigns, it’s going some way to help reduce the shortage of skilled construction workers needed to stay on top of the construction pipeline.


Our statement on Ban the Box

In our continued ambition to be the most trusted provider, partner and developer of people in technical recruitment, we continually work to be a responsible business that meets the highest standards of ethics and professionalism. We are therefore committed to Ban the Box and the fair treatment of our staff and candidates, regardless of their background. We also recognise the contribution the employment of ex-offenders can make to tackle the UK’s skills shortages in our markets.



1: The UK skills shortage is costing organisations £6.3 billion

2: Skills shortage costs British businesses £2bn a year

3:  Construction skills network report

4: Number of people with convictions

5: Ex-Offenders: Ban the Box and employment

6: How construction companies are tackling skills shortages with Ban the Box

7: Ministry of Justice report – March 2013

8: List of prisons in the UK

9: Ex-offenders: The solution to the skills crisis?

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