The government has been urged to do more to change ingrained employer attitudes about recruiting ex-offenders and other 'core jobless' groups.
The call follows research which revealed that more than 60% of employers deliberately exclude these groups, such as people with a criminal record or those who are homeless.
Employers responding to a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey cited a lack of trust and reliability and bad experiences in employing these people. More than half of the 755 respondents said nothing would persuade them to recruit from the core jobless groups.
But with Home Office figures showing that a quarter of the UK's working age population have a previous criminal conviction - accounting for more than seven million people - employers cannot afford to ignore these groups, the CIPD said.
John Philpott, CIPD chief economist, said: "The government will have to reinvigorate its welfare-to-work agenda by making greater efforts to both improve the employability of the core jobless groups and by addressing negative employer attitudes."
Keith Luxon, HR director at utility company Veolia Water, agreed, and called on the government to do more in terms of mentoring excluded groups, retraining and coaching. He suggested the government should make it financially attractive to employers to take the "perceived risks" of hiring these people.
The government must also raise confidence and aspirations among people in these groups or risk wasting their talent, according to Ray Fletcher, HR director at the Transport & General Workers' Union. "Once this happens, I am sure more employers will begin to recognise the latent untapped talent in the UK," he said.
Mervyn Barrett, communications manager at crime reduction charity Nacro, said part of the problem was that many employers were afraid of bad publicity.
However, there is some confusion in Whitehall as to which department is responsible for changing employer attitudes. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) directed queries to the Department of Trade and Industry, which said it was the responsibility of the Home Office. The Home Office then directed calls back to the DWP.
A spokeswoman for the DWP said the government consulted employers to understand their labour needs and to stress the benefits of a diverse workforce.
Feedback from the profession
HR director, Veolia