How The Homeless And Ex-Offenders Are Serving Up Success For Hospitality

As the UK hospitality sector grapples with its most severe labour shortage in years, new research has revealed that employing ex-offenders and those who have experienced homelessness could help to tackle the skills gap. In turn, this could also allow employers to meet increasing customer demands for socially conscious dining.

The research, conducted by the UK’s largest hospitality jobs board Caterer.com, uncovered the most important factors for today’s diners. The social impact of a business (85%) was one of the top considerations, alongside outstanding hygiene ratings (94%) and being waste conscious (91%).

With almost half (42%) of the population stating they would be more likely to visit a restaurant if they knew it employed ex-offenders or the homeless, engaging staff from vulnerable groups can deliver a significant return for hospitality bosses; helping with their talent pipeline and meeting customer requirements too.

The rise of conscious consumerism comes at a crucial time for the hospitality industry. 79% of bosses say they are currently looking to recruit fresh talent, with a staggering 74% struggling to fill the roles they have available. Despite this, only a third are currently connecting with ex-offenders to fill vacancies. The research shows one of the main reasons for this is the lack the knowledge of how to access this talent.

Crucially, two thirds (64%) of consumers believe hospitality businesses can play a role in helping ex-offenders and those who have experienced homelessness back into the community.

To help the industry bridge the talent gap and better integrate these groups into the hospitality workforce, Caterer.com has partnered with social entrepreneur Alex Head and industry charity Only A Pavement Away, who each provide gateways for vulnerable groups to find employment and receive support, training and guidance to rebuild their lives, confidence and self-worth.

Neil Pattison, Director at Caterer.com, said: “As consumers become more ethically minded, the social impact of where they are spending their money is becoming increasingly important.

“The hospitality industry offers exceptional training and career opportunities for people from all backgrounds. While only a third of employers are currently working with ex-offenders, an encouraging 79% of employers say they would be willing to provide on-the-job training for vulnerable people, demonstrating a strong appetite for hiring these groups. There’s a huge opportunity here for the industry to engage entry level talent, support communities and improve customer perceptions, whilst also having a positive impact on their bottom line.”

Greg Mangham, Founder at Only A Pavement Away, said: “Hospitality is an exciting industry, and one which has always fostered camaraderie between colleagues through training and lifelong learning opportunities. This spirit has certainly aided the success of Only A Pavement Away in connecting with employers who want to help ex-offenders and vulnerable groups back into the workforce. This research proves the unique opportunity hospitality employers have to not only respond to consumer demands but plug talent gaps within their business in a socially responsible way.”

Alex Head, Social Pantry, who employs ex-offenders said: “When I started Social Pantry, I made a commitment that I would try to maintain 10% of my team being ex-offenders, and I haven’t looked back. Coming out of prison and having a job is a key step in rehabilitating back into society, reduces the rate of reoffending and allows them to get back on their feet. Not only does this have a positive impact on your employees, but also the people who are choosing your business – many of my customers actively use to Social Pantry because of our social purpose. I would highly recommend all employers look at ways they can recruit these groups.”

Iulian was living on the streets in London before he moved into Caritas Anchor House, which supports single homeless people, at the start of this year. His support worker put him in touch with Only A Pavement Away who encouraged and supported him to apply for a job at The Ivy Collection.

Iulian comments: “Only A Pavement Away helped me prepare for the interview and I was accepted for a trial shift. It went really well and I was offered a role as a kitchen porter at The Ivy St John’s Wood. Four and a half months later I was promoted to commis chef. Cooking is something that I really love and I’m so happy to be there. When you go from being homeless to moving into your new home and being given a chance to forge a new career, it’s a feeling I can’t easily describe. I am so relieved and finally feel safe and stable. I am proud and know I have accomplished something amazing.”

Only a Pavement Away and Caterer.com have created a toolkit which can be downloaded at http://recruiting.caterer.com/untapped-talent where employers can find more information about working with vulnerable groups.