Creating better employment opportunities for disabled individuals could play a key role in tackling skills shortages, the new disability minister Justin Tomlinson said at a talk as part of the government’s Disability Confident campaign.
“We are nearly at full employment and if you’re an employer and you want to continue to access skilled and willing employees, you will have to sometimes make a bit of an effort,” he said.
“What I want to do is open your eyes to an amazing opportunity. So many people with disabilities want to work,” he added, reporting that recent research shows that many disabled employees prove more loyal and are more likely to stay with an organisation for longer.
He added that the changes employers needed to make to support this were often “tiny". “Time and time again employers are telling me making changes has been worth the investment,” he said, adding “this makes commercial sense".
Also speaking at the event was Alice Weightman founder of Hanson Search and The Work Crowd, which brings together freelancers, including disabled individuals, with firms looking to deliver projects on a flexible basis.
She agreed that better supporting disabled individuals into work is a great way of sourcing talent. She said disability needs to be discussed in terms of diversity rather than compliance or outreach initiatives.
“From a diversity point of view disability is never discussed. Never in my 14 years of work in this sector has anyone ever said ‘I want a shortlist with people with disabilities represented on it',” she said, adding: “I think there’s a real case for diversity at a professional level. Having a diverse workforce has greatly enhanced Hanson Search, and I have seen us win business on the back of our diversity policies.”
Weightman said that businesses need to overcome a “fear factor”, and consider how many different kinds of disability exist in order to think about what kind of person might suit what kind of job.
“Disability is a range, not just physical disability,” she said, adding that it’s also about realising all employees require support unique to them, and supporting a disabled individual should be no more than an extension to this.
“One in three people have some form of disability according to recent stats,” she said. “So we need to start engaging with this, because it’s real, it’s part of our organisations already.”
Speaking on Transport for London’s Steps into Work programme, which supports people with learning difficulties to find paid employment, head of HR Tricia Riley said that the benefit is threefold. Not only are disabled individuals supported into work, but the personal development of those working with them is also enhanced, and the Steps to Work participants carry out valuable tasks.
The government’s Disability Confident campaign was launched in July 2013. Its aim is to halve the disability employment gap by sharing best practice, improving understanding among businesses about the benefits of recruiting and retaining disabled individuals, and pointing companies towards funding in this area.
“The Access to Work scheme is one of government’s best kept secrets. There is money there that helps pay to get people with disabilities into work and keep them there,” said Tomlinson.