With unemployment among disabled people estimated as being more than 50 per cent of those of working age, Edmund West looks at whether work experience can lead to longer term solutions.
Why is it so hard to get disabled people work experience and jobs?
Steve Candlish is Operations Manager at Working Links, a UK-wide rehabilitation and social inclusion project. He identifies the leading barriers to disabled employment:
“Low confidence, fear of losing benefits, low education, transport costs (especially in rural areas), recruitment policies, family members and carers thinking they are too vulnerable for work, discrimination and gaps in their CVs.
“We overcome these barriers in various ways: our bespoke employer staff have a positive attitude to employing disabled people, they only work with employers that are disability-friendly, they match the needs of disabled people with employers, a needs satisfaction approach. To get the right job, we provide them with a suitable person. That bespoke member usually works with small and medium businesses. We have training courses for specific companies. We call that creating an ’employer-led route’. These are 60-70% effective at getting people into work. We teach the candidates what the company needs, things like interview tips.”
Candlish believes that the most disabled-friendly sector is the care industry, while the best company for employing disabled people in his experience is Servest, a facilities management provider that works with clients including Tesco and Weetabix.
But he also believes some barriers have come from the state:
“The DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) confuses employers and puts them off employing disabled people. We resolve this by saying ‘give this person a chance’; usually the employers are pleasantly surprised. Voluntary placements reassure employers.”
His company has to reassure people that they won’t lose money by working:
“We make a back to work calculation to ensure people don’t lose out by getting a job. Most people will happily swap benefits for a pay cheque. We make sure it’s in their favour.”
Bethany Tucker is a Sales Account Manager with Cerebral Palsy. She has had to struggle with negative stereotypes:
“The label ‘disabled’ doesn’t specify what your condition is, that label can conjure up images of wheelchairs. I struggled trying to impress people. I often felt I had to battle to show people I could do the job. Certain employers that I’ve had… didn’t want me to mention my disability because they thought it would give me preferential treatment e.g. extra breaks. You have to say to them ‘actually I don’t need extra breaks, just extra help now and then’.”
Leah Forsythe, Employment Consultant for the Work Choice Programme, said: “Employers will focus on the negatives such as not looking at what experience and skills a person has but solely on how long they’ve been unemployed… They fear that a person with disabilities will need more time off. People with disabilities actually are more willing to work, less likely to take time off, and less likely to move jobs. I work closely with a man whose schizophrenia and bipolar disorders contribute to anger issues that have repeatedly jeopardised his ability to keep a job. We have overcome this by agreeing with his employer that on days his anger needs to be managed, he can visit me and we can work through it. This has helped him to retain steady employment for several months.”
While the main barriers to disabled employment (paid or unpaid) remain people’s low expectations, of us and false stereotypes of disabled people, it’s clear that work experience can make the transition into work go more smoothly. It’s also clear that getting those valuable work experience placements can often be a battle in itself.