With Brexit on the horizon, businesses face looming concerns about skills and talent shortages – something we at Lendlease, like many others, are planning for. The national employment level is at an all-time peak with more than 32m in work, but our labour market is only tightening and getting more competitive.
Within construction, our current shortage stems from both an ageing workforce and potential curbs to EU migration.
Pair this decline in manpower with the ambitious housing and infrastructure targets that we need to hit, and it’s a worrying outlook.
But there is a vast and untapped pool of talent in this increasingly tough hiring climate: the 11m UK citizens with a criminal record. And the business case for supporting this under-represented group – accounting for one sixth of the population – into work is growing.
It’s true that hiring ex-offenders comes with increased responsibility, paperwork, training, and support. It can seem like a huge challenge for businesses, in which the perceived risks outweigh the potential benefits.
But it’s time we adopted the mindset that hiring ex-offenders is a two-way value exchange; it can be just as worthwhile for business as it is to those given the lifeline. We all get back what we put in, growing our workforces, and making society safer and more inclusive in the process.
The reality is that re-offending is rapidly becoming a national crisis, costing the economy £15bn each year. But employed (as opposed to unemployed) ex-offenders are statistically far less likely to commit another crime.
Businesses have a duty to act on this social issue. It’s clear that the current system is not working as well as it could, and it can’t be managed by the public sector alone.
This motivation first led us to work with Her Majesty’s Prison Service on the construction of Bluewater Shopping Centre in 1996.
And a decade ago, we founded the not-for-profit organisation Be Onsite, with the simple aim of changing the lives of disadvantaged people – including ex-offenders – living in the communities in which we work. To date, Be Onsite has put 643 people into work, and 21 per cent of its employee base are ex-offenders.
The scheme offers the opportunity to learn new skills and take on roles from the construction site to the office. We know that this can have an immense impact. Indeed, the re-offending rate of those who’ve been through the Be Onsite programme is less than five per cent, compared to the national average of 48 per cent.
Behind the statistics are the people that we’ve worked with who have thrived on their chance to start again. One of our staff, who joined soon after his release from prison in 2014 in an entry-level supply chain role, is now a supervisor with significant management responsibilities.
On top of that, he mentors other ex-offenders, and his personal life is on track having just moved into a new home and become a father for the first time.
His story is not just a personal success, but a collective one too. It shows the power of businesses to unlock potential in those who possess the drive and determination to turn their lives around.
The tide is slowly turning. In October, the government committed to working more closely with the private sector to help people find work when they leave prison – a significant step that signals the start of a greater role for businesses in aiding ex-offenders’ societal reintegration.
In moving to make today’s workplaces more diverse and inclusive, changing how we engage with ex-offenders is a crucial piece of the puzzle – and one that we can all benefit from.