Nearly two thirds of employers would be willing to hire an ex-offender if they were supported to do so, according to new research.

The study by education and training authority SOLAS also found half of people say they would not be bothered to have an ex-offender as a colleague.

Two out of every three respondents to the survey also said it would not bother them to be served by an ex-offender in a customer-service setting.

However, awareness appears to be an issue, with three out of every five employers saying they did not know of any education programmes that are designed to help convicted criminals become more employable.

The survey found that education does matter, with 67% of those who took part saying the fact that an applicant had completed education programmes while serving their sentence would encourage them to hire an ex-offender.

The survey results were released as SOLAS, Mountjoy Prison and Ibec held a joint event to explore employer attitudes on the issue.

"In 2018, there were over 8,500 beneficiaries of SOLAS-funded education programmes across the seven prisons in Dublin, of which 2,367 achieved accredited outcomes," said Nikki Gallagher, Director of Communications and Secretariat at SOLAS.

"Education programmes in prison are vital in helping to reintegrate ex-offenders into society on release."

"However, despite having completed such programmes during their sentence, many ex-offenders find it difficult to get a job."

According to Solas, several supports are available to employers to help them hire ex-offenders.

These include training and employment officers who provide support to both the employer and employee before and during employment, as well as financial grants. 

Eddie Mullins, Governor of Mountjoy Prison, said he had seen first-hand the transformative effect education can have on prisoners' lives.

"There are huge opportunities for employers to benefit from hiring ex-offenders  they have undergone high quality education and training while in prison, and want to make positive changes in their lives through hard work and commitment," he said.

"By availing of the supports available to them to hire ex-offenders, employers  and society as a whole will reap the rewards."