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​Sodexo UK & Ireland has marked the first anniversary of its Starting Fresh scheme with the release of an employer toolkit. The toolkit builds on resources the organisation launched last March to help bridge the gap between businesses struggling with skills shortages and the under-utilised talent pool of people with criminal convictions.

Sodexo UK & Ireland operates Sodexo Live, a provider of hospitality, retail and event catering services for sports and entertainment venues. It commissioned research that found that while 62% of UK private sector businesses were facing recruitment challenges, a third had not considered hiring ex-offenders.

The company, which has extensive experience managing prisons, said it launched the Starting Fresh scheme to advocate for and provide employment opportunities for ex-offenders

In its first year, Starting Fresh has facilitated more than 300 job opportunities through partnerships with companies including Marriott Hotels. Sodexo said it has “created employment pathways” between the prisons it manages and its business, resulting in candidates from across the prison estate being referred for roles at Sodexo.

Sodexo has now launched an employer toolkit to extend the support and reach of Starting Fresh to more employers, with the aim of helping them to discover the talent available from this under-utilised community of people.

Sodexo UK & Ireland justice operations director Tony Simpson said, “We believe in the transformative power of gainful employment for people with criminal convictions, and are keen to drive recognition of the immense value they can bring to both businesses and the communities they serve.

“Nearly 50,000 people leave prison every year, many emerging with formal qualifications they didn’t have before in construction, cleaning, catering, hospitality, hairdressing and many other areas. They are skilled and job-ready, equipped with the skills, qualifications and experience to transition into the workforce.

“Our employer toolkit has been built to help organisations proactively engage with our prisons and partners to start the hiring process with prison-leavers.”