Disability ‘shouldn’t be left off the HR agenda’

Employment gap must be halved by 2020, Business Disability Forum hears

The minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, has urged employers to go one step further to help reach the “ambitious target” of halving the disability employment gap and bringing more than one million people into work by the end of this parliament.

Speaking at the Business Disability Forum conference, Tomlinson said it wasn’t enough “just to offer work experience”.

“Disabled people need to be able to have meaningful and sustainable careers,” he said.

More than six million people (16 per cent) of working age in the UK have a disability, but the employment rate among disabled people stood at 46.7 per cent at the end of 2015, compared with 80.3 per cent for non-disabled people. To halve this gap would require bringing an extra 1.2 million disabled people into work, the minister said.

“The UK is almost at full employment, and so businesses need to wake up to the fact that there is this pool of talent waiting to be tapped into,” Tomlinson said. Speaking of his time as a small business owner before his political career, the minister added that he “never set out to hire a disabled person. It happened by accident but my business benefited in the end.”

The government’s Access To Work scheme has faced criticism in the press, but the minister said it was simply “a service designed to support both employer and staff member in work. It covers the costs of removing the barriers to getting disabled people into work.”

Speaking of her experience of waking up paralysed at age 29, Yasmin Sheikh, former associate at law firm Clyde & Co and now disability consultant, coach and trainer, told conference delegates: “I was the first disabled person I had met. I didn’t know what help and support I needed and neither did my employer. We had to have a solid relationship to build a support plan together.”

Sheikh added that employers have a role in helping disabled people – a community that is ever-growing with dyslexia, cancer and hearing impairment all classed as disabilities – at every step of their career.

Support getting a job

For Tomlinson, reforming the apprenticeship system is the best place to start, after a report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission revealed that just 0.3 per cent of apprentices are disabled.

“Apprenticeships need to better support disabled people into supported work and guaranteed jobs,” he said. “The answer is to look at the skills shortages in the local area and train people to plug those gaps, to ensure guaranteed jobs from the outset. We have to listen to businesses and match the needs to the skills we’re training.”

Getting back into work

Like Sheikh, 83 per cent of people acquire a disability while working, so encouraging the transition back into employment is just as important.

Jules Lockett, practice learning manager at London Ambulance Service, said: “It is absolutely crucial to keep in contact with colleagues and work. When you’re off sick, you have a need, and a want, to know what is happening. While your doctor might be advising you to take a break, rest – it makes you feel ‘normal’ getting the odd email from work. And makes the transition back so much easier.”

Support in the workplace

“Many people try to disguise a disability or a mental health condition at work – or don’t recognise it in themselves,” said Matt Reed, director of employer services at Remploy, who recommended the Mental Health Support Service under Access to Work to help individuals struggling in the workplace.

Lockett added that, once back in work, “peer-to-peer and senior support is vital. Someone to relate to safely and securely, but also having access to trained, professional help such as occupational health, can make all the difference.”

Progressing at work

Dr Nasser Siabi, chief executive of workplace solutions provider Microlink, said the legal requirement to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ can deter many employers from recruiting and retaining disabled talent.

“Reasonable adjustments can been seen as expensive, complicated and meaning you need more training and resources. But once you’ve done it once, it is easily replicated and the ROI is tangible,” he said.

Anne Foster, head of diversity and inclusion at the House of Commons, said the organisation’s Parliamentary Role Models campaign aims to break down the barriers to progression by giving diverse candidates a sense that ambition is achievable.

“We aim to celebrate difference – not just based on the protected characteristics – at all levels of the organisation,” she said. “People often don’t want to be thrust into a role model position; it has to be natural and evolve naturally. And you don’t have to have a disability to be a disability role model.”

“Disability isn’t sexy,” concluded Sheikh. “But it really shouldn’t be left off of the agenda.”

Story via – http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2016/04/22/disability-39-shouldn-39-t-be-left-off-the-hr-agenda-39.aspx

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