By Claire West

Less than one in four employers have hired from disadvantaged groups — such as young people with few or no qualifications, the long-term unemployed, ex-offenders or older workers — during the last three years, new research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and KPMG reveals.

The survey finds that around one third (32%) of employers actively exclude certain disadvantaged groups from the recruitment process. Although this is an improvement from 2005 when a similar CIPD survey found that 62% of employers excluded one or more disadvantaged groups from the recruitment process, it still represents a wide section of the workforce being actively excluded.

Nearly one fifth (19%) of employers will not consider applications from ex-offenders, 16% of employers exclude young people aged 18 and under with few or no qualifications and 9% of organisations exclude applications from people aged over 65 or older.

This exclusion, suggests the survey, is not justified on the basis of actual performance in the workplace. Employers - who were asked to rate the performance levels of these groups with other employees on a scale of better, worse or the same — generally rated the performance of these groups as equal to the rest of their workforce.

Gerwyn Davies, CIPD Public Policy Adviser, said: “Employer reluctance to recruit from groups who have faced barriers to employment shows that the Government still faces a huge challenge in getting more economically inactive benefit claimants — especially those with a criminal record — off welfare and into work. New Government initiatives, such as the Work Programme, are to be welcomed. But a further cooling off in the labour market, as now seems underway, is bad news for those at the back of the jobs queue and for ministers who may find it harder to meet their welfare reform objectives. As a result, the Government will have to make even greater efforts to both improve the employability of target groups and to address some employers’ attitudes to people in these groups.”

The report does offer some hope to the Government’s welfare to work drive, finding that around a third (33%) of employers would be more likely to recruit from these groups if more was done to improve their employability. The most popular policy among employers is to develop a six-month internship paid at the national minimum wage rate that is co-funded by the employer and the Government (17%). But the report also suggests that employability measures must be matched by greater efforts to overcome the unfair negative attitudes of some employers towards target groups.

Davies continues, “The extent of exclusion is not in every case justified on the basis of the potential of almost every target group. For example, employers with experience of employing ex-offenders consider them at least as productive as other workers and a majority of employers consider them to be more loyal than the rest of the workforce. This would suggest that people with criminal records and individuals from other target groups are in many cases being unfairly excluded from the recruitment process. More must be done therefore by policy makers, working with employers, to challenge these often inaccurate and negative stereotypes.”

Other key survey findings:
• Disabled people are one of the disadvantaged groups that are ranked as performing better than the rest of the workforce. Disabled employees are considered more loyal (+26) and are deemed to have better customer service (+9), and a higher quality of work (+4)
• Ex-offenders are regarded more loyal than the rest of the workforce (+8), while the quality of their work, productivity and customer service is no worse than the rest of the workforce
• Lone parents score fairly highly across the range of performance criteria, but are far more likely to be absent from work than other employees (—34)
• Younger workers with no qualifications and those with a history of long-term unemployment are deemed to perform worse than other employees
In terms of recruitment over the past three years the survey finds:
• 23% of employers have employed people aged 18 and under in the past three years
• 21% have recruited people with a history of long-term unemployment in the past three years
• 16% of employers have recruited people aged over 65 over the same period