Hiring people with disabilities: What you need to know

‘Employees with disabilities will be more loyal and committed if given the opportunity’

Hiring people with disabilities: What you need to know

Most recruiting occurs from the perspective of the perceived ‘best available candidate’, according to Matt Little, CEO at CoAct.

Even in large organisations who implement implicit strategies to increase the representation of people with a disability, the ingrained HR policies and processes are designed to filter out less credentialed candidates, added Little.

There have been many examples where an explicit strategy is not enough to make change.

“Often a dedicated resource is required internally to identify these barriers and break them down so candidates with different capabilities and experience are included,” Little told HRD.

“In Australia, one in five people live with disability, so 20% of the potential candidate pool is cut off if people with disabilities are not considered for roles.”

However, according to Little, that doesn’t make business sense and doesn’t make sense for the economy either.

“For many smaller employers, it is often the perception or fear of the unknown,” he said.

“The increased time in training and developing staff instead of choosing highly experienced staff on day one, the fear of having to make major changes to the workspace or invest in specialist equipment.”

Little added that research routinely finds that while the initial investment in training and development can be greater, the staff loyalty, increased retention and long-term commitment far outweigh the initial costs.

“That’s why disability employment organisations exist, to assist employers with on-the-job support and training as well assisting the employee through all the early hurdles and anxieties that any new employee faces,” he said.

So, what are some of the positive flow-on effects of hiring someone with a disability?

Firstly, Little said that consumers are expecting much more from the businesses they engage with.

They expect the workforce to be reflective of the greater community and they expect a commitment to social and environmental outcomes.

“Employers who take the time and effort to provide opportunities for those often overlooked regularly remark that it was the best decision they have ever made and the employees have quickly become incredible assets to their business,” he said.

“People with disabilities want to work. They will be more loyal and committed if given the opportunity.”

Little cited a recent Accenture study which found that companies that offered the most inclusive working environment for disabled employees gained an average of almost 30% in revenue.

“Diversity and inclusion were seen as something that was good to do, but now can be included as an indicator of good governance and potential financial performance,” he said.

“Inclusive workplaces are generally more positive with innumerable flow on effects throughout the workforce, customers and the community.”

CoAct were recently involved in a storytelling project which showcased seven short stories of people with a disability achieving and changing their lives through meaningful employment or hiring people with disability.

“The ‘Change the Story’ campaign is an opportunity for us to showcase why CoAct and our Service Partners exist,” he said.

“The films highlight that our job is to show both jobseekers and employers that they have a contribution they can make to society, and that there are so many benefits to a diverse workforce.”

Little said they like to call themselves the ‘co-pilot’ in the relationship with both employers and jobseekers, working alongside them to navigate the world of work.

“Whether it be a jobseeker like John – who needed some help to rebuild his confidence and polish up on his employability skills – or an employer like Priya in Coffs Harbour – who wanted to ensure she’d get the right candidates for the job every time – we are there in their corner working with them to bring about positive change in people’s lives.”

For Little, the films show that no one person’s experience is the same and no one disability is the same.

“The impact of a specific disability may be of no relevance to a specific task, and for that reason they could be a fantastic future employee,” he said.

The employers featured in the film are all extremely happy with their decision to employ a person with a disability and only strongly recommend other employers to follow their lead.

Little added that he also thinks they are inspiring for other people with a disability also looking for work.

“It is hard and can be filled with knock-backs. That only makes securing the job all the more special when it happens. Is it little wonder why these employees turn out to be very loyal to the businesses that gave them their first opportunity?

“Our short films also challenge misunderstandings about the sometimes surprising and unexpected abilities of people, rather than focusing on disabilities. Bridie in Perth being a great example in her film of this. She has vision impairment, yet she works in a commercial kitchen with no problems.”

Little said the other important message they wanted to convey was how the benefits of work impacts people’s lives.

“We know that sustained, meaningful employment gives people a sense of identity and self-worth, increased confidence and expanding social networks. It also leads to financial independence and opportunities to gain skills, knowledge and develop a career.”

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