This article first appeared in the Western Morning News.

The UK is due to leave the EU in four months. More now than ever, there are many questions still unresolved, but one thing is absolutely clear. Whatever decisions are made between now and next March, UK employers will face a struggle after Brexit to find workers in both high and low skilled positions to keep their businesses moving.

A new report from the respected Migration Observatory at Oxford University calculates that 3.6 million to 3.8 million EU citizens are currently working in the UK, but this is predicted to fall significantly.

The majority of those EU workers are in skilled jobs, including 537,000 in ‘high-skilled jobs’ with degree or equivalent qualifications.

Alongside them are half a million who are currently in low skilled work. These include 132,000 people in cleaning jobs, 120,000 in basic hospitality businesses like coffee shops, 96,000 in warehousing and 90,000 working in factories.

That’s not all. In lower-middle skilled jobs (that’s those jobs involving some simple training as well as school qualifications), over 80,000 EU citizens currently work in our care services, 74,000 in food processing and 68,000 in shops and stores.

With parts of the UK experiencing virtual ‘full employment’ – the highest since the 1970’s, the Migration Observatory report confirms that current plans to address the likely shortfall of labour with non-EU countries will not be sufficient as the predicted number of EU workers in the UK falls.

But there is a solution much closer to home… and a very simple one at that!

‘We know that 1.36 million UK citizens who are keen to work don’t currently have a job,’ says Steve Hawkins, CEO of Pluss, a specialist disability employment provider. ‘This might be because they are struggling to find the right job with the right employer, or because their support needs mean they need help to develop the confidence and right set of skills to help them secure that job.’

Pluss is at the forefront of employment support. They provide specialist support for individuals with health conditions and disabilities to secure the right job with an employer who feels confident that they have recruited a great employee. Pluss’ conviction is that most people, with the right support, can be helped to realise their potential in work, and can make a significant contribution to our economy.

Yet, people with disabilities and health conditions are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to gaining work.

Currently the national employment rate (number of people in work) stands at just over 81%, yet for someone with a disability the figure is just over 50%. However, in the South West only 6% of people with learning disabilities are in employment, and 12% of people with complex and enduring mental health conditions. Both are low figures compared to the national average.

To help change this, Devon County Council and Jobcentre Plus have recently launched a campaign to encourage businesses to recruit more people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health needs.

Ready When You Are’ highlights the advantages to employers of employing people with disabilities and the wide-ranging support, including financial assistance, that is available to employers and candidates to help them with recruitment. The campaign website provides a wealth of information and some enlightening case studies.

People with disabilities bring with them a wealth of untapped talent, skills and ideas. They are also often extremely loyal and committed employees who bring positivity, innovation and new ideas into an organisation.

The spending power of people with disabilities and their families (otherwise known as the ‘purple pound’) is currently estimated at £249 billion a year. By employing people with disabilities, businesses can gain unique insight that helps them to understand and cater to the needs of their disabled customers. It also does wonders for brand reputation, presenting them as an employer that embraces diversity with a modern and inclusive approach to their recruitment practices.

Many businesses now understand the value of diversity in their workforce but are not sure where to start. This is where they need to think completely differently about the way in which they recruit.

Becoming Disability Confident is a great first step. Offering a range of recruitment procedures – such as work trials and supported internships as an alternative to the traditional panel interview (which often precludes the very people employers are hoping to attract), and breaking down institutional discrimination by simply asking every single employee ‘What can we do to make your job easier?’ Such changes are extremely simple to make, yet will mean a real shift to the recruitment status quo.

Steve Hawkins is clear. ‘We believe that Brexit provides a real opportunity for businesses to change the way in which they recruit. By thinking differently about recruitment there is a very simple and effective way of addressing the labour and skills shortfall that many employers now face.”

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This article and interview with Steve Hawkins, CEO Pluss is written in conjunction with the South West Business Council.

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