Regular DH contributor, Mark Wilson, who worked for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for over 35 years shares an article about the usefulness of pre-recruitment courses for disabled jobseekers.
We are living through hard times. You may have read that, heard it debated on endless news programmes and, let’s face it, since late 2008 it’s pretty much all anyone’s talked about. You may have also read about the impact of rising unemployment amongst those aged 18-24, 50+ and how disproportionate all this is as far as women are concerned. It’s true of course. All of it.
What you may not have read much about is the impact of contracting labour markets on disabled jobseekers, the reduction (and in some cases possible withdrawal) of programmes designed to restore a degree of equality to the recruitment process by helping to better prepare those with a competitive disadvantage.
It worries me that some may see pre-recruitment training and on-going induction support as a little like “old news”. After all, this type of support has been around a long time. Whether it be some hugely successful examples championed by Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)/Jobcentre Plus or equally innovative approaches led by the influential Employers Forum on Disability (EfD) or fine programmes run in the private sector; pre recruitment strategies that work have made a massive difference over the last ten years. Approaches that dovetail pre-recruitment with effective disability awareness training for employers and agencies alike are, or certainly were, at the cutting edge of ensuring that talented disabled jobseekers with much to offer, could compete on an equal footing in a viciously harsh labour market.
More than ever pre-recruitment makes the difference when employers have a larger pool of applicants to choose from and whatever you hear about equality training for HR managers, when your options are many and often seemingly over qualified, the temptation to “sift out” those with an obvious added hurdle to overcome is, well… let’s just leave it at “tempting”.
Disabled jobseekers cannot afford to have a less than sparkling interview or “present” in a way that isn’t full of confidence. Written applications have to be spot on and more than anything else (and yes it’s not “fair” but still “real”) using pre-recruitment and work tasters effectively is still the very best way to prove that those additional hurdles or barriers, are not what they seem to be. What will always matter is talent, experience, drive, determination, loyalty and the inescapable fact that disabled employees will have better attendance records than most, stay longer and deliver as well if not better than a so called able bodied applicant.
Successful pre-recruitment costs money, but in turn it saves a bundle and it’s a far bigger bundle than by comparisons with some other supportive programmes in today’s labour market. I’ve seen a six week programme designed in partnership with one of the UK’s largest employers, produce 130 new employees who went on to be part of a group that delivered lower turnover rates in one location than what we call “mainstream” recruitment.
At the start, this very mixed group of applicants faced a wide range of disability related issues, long term unemployment and lack of basic skills. But the guaranteed interview at the end of the process produced surprising results, a sea change in confidence levels and “allowed” recruiters to more quickly get past disability or inexperience and assess the individual before them on a truly equal footing. No favours at this stage beyond the willingness to see an even playing field. But when you start equal you really are “competing” and that alone is why investing in pre-recruitment makes sense.
Add to this a well designed Disability Awareness training for employers and you have a truly double whammy effect. By raising awareness of the kind of things that may, in some people’s minds, “disable” an applicant’s resume, you gently remove bias, remove fear of what is often the “unknown” and crucially exposé a level of personal discrimination that surprises those who often see themselves as champions of equality. There are many “light bulb” moments on well-run disability awareness programmes and shedding light on sometimes taboo subject areas makes a lasting impression, particularly on those who are rarely, if ever, touched by disability itself.
Never has there been a more important time to put money into quality pre-recruitment and disability awareness training. This is not about what’s “fair” or “right”, though guess what… it really is fair and it’s clearly right. No, this is about employers understanding that just because their pool of applicants has grown in a grim recession, it doesn’t mean they can abandon approaches that support those needing to overcome a competitive disadvantage prior to sifting or interview stages. It is also about Government recognising that even a thirteen week or, yes, six month mix of pre-recruitment and actual work experience, sometimes whilst still on benefits, can change a life, produce a quality employee and still save money, with the payback happening far more quickly than many expect.
In this context I don’t really care what colour the Government is, whether leaning towards Labour or Conservative ideals. I do care that years of pre-recruitment and disability awareness progress could be lost unless someone with vision recognises the threat amidst public sector cuts that simply will not be mitigated by any amount of “Big Society” intervention.
Spend-to-save on pre-recruitment and disability awareness needs a bold and brave champion with influence, guts and vision. Right now I cannot see that champion emerging.
Disability organisations need to work even harder when those jobless stats are published each month, demand more information on (and coverage of) the impact on disabled unemployment during this recession. Equally, they need to ask awkward questions of Government Departments as to what they are doing to continue to up-skill their own staff in terms of disability awareness, whilst also supporting employers to do the same.
But most of all, is there recognition in Government that substantial time spent in pre-recruitment, when linked to job tasters and effective disability awareness raising in public and private sectors, can and does save public money whilst positively changing the lives of disabled jobseekers forever?
By Mark Wilson
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