Devon County Council and Jobcentre Plus are launching a campaign to encourage businesses to recruit more people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health needs.
The national unemployment rate among people with disabilities is almost three times higher, around 9.1 per cent, than the equivalent among people without disabilities, which is about 3.6 per cent.
There are currently about 21,000 adults with a learning disability in Devon. The Council’s social care services know about 3,500 of them and about 8 per cent of those are in paid employment. The council wants to see that figure rise significantly.
The challenge is not that there’s an unwilling workforce – people with disabilities want to work. The challenge, which is described by many people with disabilities, is that it’s very difficult for someone with disabilities to get a job. Lots of people with learning disabilities, autism or mental health needs are put off even from applying for jobs through fear of the stigma and misconceptions that can accompany disabled candidates in a recruitment process.
And that’s what the Council and Jobcentre Plus are setting out to address with their Ready When You Are campaign.
They want to raise awareness among the business sectors of the advantages for employers of employing people with disabilities, and to highlight the wide range of support, including financial support, that is available to employers and candidates to help them with recruitment.
It’s part of wider work by the council to create the right conditions and opportunities for people with disabilities to live the lives they choose as independently as possible.
Twenty two year old Ashley Pritchard is a Kitchen Porter at The Pig at Combe, a popular hotel and restaurant near Honiton, East Devon. Ashley’s worked at The Pig since it opened two years ago.
“I’d studied catering at college and I really wanted to get a job after I’d finished. The main reason why I wanted to work is to earn my own money and choose how I spend it. But I also wanted to be part of a team, and to improve my life skills.
“I found applying for work challenging, especially my CV. I wasn’t sure about what information should be in it, and I didn’t know what an employer would be looking for. So I got help with that from my college.”
Ashley was applying for jobs but was unsuccessful. His break came on applying to the then soon-to-open The Pig at Combe, Gittisham. He found the vacancy for Kitchen Porter advertised online and applied.
“I was very conscious of the knock back I’d had from my unsuccessful application, so I felt nervous going to my interview with the Head Chef.”
Despite nerves, the interview went well and Ashley was offered the job, becoming a valued member of the new kitchen team.
“It took little time for Ashley to settle into his role,” says Fiona Moores, Hotel Director of The Pig. “There were some adjustments that we made early on, as Ashley learned the role and we learned how to get the best of Ashley’s very clear abilities. They were mostly around his working hours.”
Jobcentre Plus helped Fiona and Ashley to make the appointment a success. With it, The Pig was entitled to receive the Government’s Access to Work funding.
“The funding enabled us to pay for training, not just for Ashley but also for staff he is working with so that they know how best to work with him. And he had support from a Job Coach, which suited Ashley but wouldn’t be necessary in every case.
“I’ve found Ashley to be a very conscientious worker, hardworking and he wants to work. And committed – Kitchen Porter isn’t the easiest of roles, especially in such a busy kitchen as we have, and it speaks volumes that Ashley is the only Kitchen Porter of those first appointments that remains part of the team today.
“Employers shouldn’t be afraid of employing a person with a disability. There is support out there and as long as the person is integrated with that support, you can have a very loyal employee.”
Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for adult social care said:
“It’s not as difficult as businesses might first imagine. Employers may think that they’ll have to make major physical adaptations at work or other changes that will cost them money, and that’s not true in most cases. It is important to make sure that there is support available for the employee from day one, but businesses can get help with making sure that’s ready.
“There is a potential workforce in Devon that has very employable skills, and yet who find it very difficult to find paid employment. There is no reason why, with support, that employment could not be successful and for that person to bring to the employer their skills and abilities that will benefit their business.
“Ashley found his job at The Pig himself, but there are also Employer Advisors at Jobcentre Plus who work with businesses of all sizes to help match candidates with employees. They can talk to businesses about the comprehensive package of support, including financial support, to help them with that employment.
“In short, employers should be considering this workforce as a very credible and attainable source of talent and ability that can be of great benefit to their business.”
Jobcentre Plus help businesses become ‘Disability Confident’. By signing up to the Disability Confident scheme, businesses are demonstrating a commitment to employing people with disabilities. Employers can promote the fact that they are ‘Disability Confident’ as an indication to people with disabilities that they will be considered fairly and equally in the recruitment process and during their employment with the company.
There are about 218 ‘Disability Confident’ businesses so far in Devon – the Council wants to see that number double – across a very wide range of business sectors.
Karen Palin, from Jobcentre Plus, said:
“All Members of Parliament, across party, are committed to halving the gap between the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people.
“This campaign, working in partnership with Devon County Council is an opportunity to demonstrate to local businesses the benefits of increasing the diversity of their workforce and offering opportunities to disabled jobseekers.
“Employers have a crucial role to play in this – apart from self-employment, disabled people can only be in employment if employers are willing to employ them.
“Disability Confident is about creating a movement for change, getting employers to think differently about disability and to take action to improve how they attract, recruit and retain disabled workers.
“This involves business talking to business, with disability confident employers sharing their evidence and experiences with other employers.
“The purpose of the campaign is for us and the Department of Work and Pensions to work more closely with employers, helping them to identify and remove the barriers that prevent work place inclusion for many disabled people.”
Jobcentre Plus offers free advice about how to recruit disabled people, the support on offer, and the benefits of becoming an accredited Disability Confident employer.
For more information visit the readydevon.org.uk