- Kate Headley
While the recruitment sector has, in the past, strongly voiced its reservations around the Apprenticeship Levy, a recent round table hosted by the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI) concluded that its introduction offers us a prime opportunity to improve disabled talent pipelines.
We must begin by understanding what ‘disability’ means; that is, a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities. It is worth noting that only one in eight disabled people use a wheelchair and a disability does not necessarily mean that a person will need constant attention, or an employer to make monumental changes to facilitate them. In fact, according to the Health and Safety Executive, disabled people take less days off sick and have fewer accidents in the workplace. However, recent research has found that up to 90% of disabled jobseekers would not disclose their disability during the recruitment process. And if employees can’t be ‘themselves’ at work, then employers don’t stand a chance of getting the best out of them.
After working in recruitment for more than 20 years, I understand that the pace of the profession, coupled with client pressure, means that it sometimes seems we don’t have the time or resources to reassess practices. However, the tide is certainly shifting; your clients are increasingly being asked to provide evidence of their diversity policy in order to secure business. And, in turn, businesses are looking to engage with forward-thinking suppliers which are clued-up and proactive. As such, in my experience, recruiters and business leaders are no longer asking why they must be more inclusive, but how?
The wider business benefits associated with diverse workforces are hard to ignore. A myriad of evidence points towards the benefits of truly representative teams, namely the advantages of having greater access to different perspectives and sources of information, as well as the obvious rewards of having a workforce which is reflective of the communities it serves. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that people with a disability take less sick days and are more likely to stay with an employer longer than their peers, saving time and money on the costs of recruitment and training by reducing staff turnover. Moreover, recent research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that disabled employees outperform all other groups in terms of innovation and professional ambition.
Despite this weight of evidence, at present, just 9% of apprentices have a disability. According to the Disabled Living Foundation around 19% of working age people in the UK have a disability, meaning that disabled people remain significantly underrepresented at apprenticeship level.
At the RIDI round table, which was attended by a diverse mix of representatives from private and public-sector organisations including the Cabinet Office, the Clear Company, DWF, Guidant Group, and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), attendees identified several barriers to engagement. A notable level of ambiguity regarding where employers should turn to for support in this area was an overarching theme running throughout the discussion, with this considered the ‘missing link’ in the dissemination of expertise around inclusivity in apprenticeships.
Key recommendations resulting from the event included: raising the awareness of apprenticeships among those with disabilities; ‘demystifying’ the application process; a stronger partnership between the government’s Disability Confident scheme and the Institute of Apprenticeships; and a ‘one stop shop’ for guidance around apprenticeships for disabled individuals.
However, while there is no doubt that access to guidance needs to be improved. There are resources currently available for organisations which are passionate about the inclusion of disabled talent and the wider social mobility agenda: they just need to be pointed in the right direction.
In the long term, apprenticeship providers and staffing companies must work together to fill the knowledge gap to boost wider inclusion. Meanwhile, organisations which engage with disabled apprentices can create a foothold for themselves in the marketplace and establish themselves as leaders. Together, recruiters, employers and training providers can develop a pathway to help everyone succeed.
Kate Headley is chair of the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI)