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Employability Day: Recognising the importance of supporting disadvantaged groups into work

  • Monday, June 13, 2022
  • Posted By The Growth Company

Today is Employability Day, an opportunity for employers and organisations which provide employment support to celebrate the work they do to help people secure work.   

Given GC’s sustained history in helping some of the most hard-to-reach communities into employment, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my thoughts on how I’d like to see employment support programmes evolve while discussing what employers can do to make their workforce more diverse and inclusive.  

Breaking down the barriers to employment for some of society’s most disadvantaged communities  

When it comes to groups which face the most barriers and challenges that hold them back from finding work (and staying in employment), there are two groups which spring to mind. The first is disabled people. 

While there has been some movement, largely driven by the pandemic, to put a focus on flexibility, I still don’t believe inclusion is considered enough when offering someone a role and presenting them with their contract.  

We need more innovative employers to really support disabled people in work and to tackle this disability gap head-on. One in five people are disabled, yet the number of disabled people who are in work is still quite low in comparison. Stats from Gov.UK show that in Q2 of 2021, the disability employment rate was 52.7%, compared to 81% for non-disabled people. On average, 340,000 disabled workers also move out of work each year. This is something which really needs to change.

The second group which I feel is at a disadvantage is Black and Asian communities, and individuals from other minority ethnic backgrounds. There are statistics which show that if you’re a Black graduate you’re less likely to go into work, or it’ll take you longer to find work than somebody who’s white and underqualified. I think there’s still inherent racism in a lot of organisations. People may find roles but when they start work, they discover that the culture isn’t as inclusive as they first thought and they’re subject to discrimination and biases in the workplace.  

Have employment support programmes evolved and adapted enough over time? 

Although there has been a lot of progress with the scope of employment support programmes (for example provisions tailored to people with health conditions or disabilities), I still don’t think some of the larger contracts go far enough to meet the diverse needs of the customer groups that we’re working with. That’s something we’re looking at internally here at GC: how we diversify and shape our service design so that it does meet individual needs more effectively.  
It’ll be interesting to see whether the Shared Prosperity Fund will do more for specific demographics of society. 

What more needs to be done to help people get into the labour market?  

Personally, I’d like to see employment support programmes being commissioned more innovatively. If we look at the Ministry of Justice Activity Hubs, for example, they offer a very holistic approach. It doesn’t feel like a traditional provision when you go into the centres: it feels very person-centred and very individual. I would like to see more of that. It would cost more, but I think it would have more effective outcomes for those people who are struggling to move into the labour market.   
The labour market is currently very buoyant with lots of opportunities for people, yet we still have many people claiming benefits and out of work. So, for those people, it’s not just about having vacancies – we need to do more that looks at their individual situation. Is it their health condition that’s holding them back? Is it a relationship? Has it been a bereavement? Is it their mental health? Their debt or their housing? We need to look at all of those aspects and really build their resilience, their confidence and their ability to cope in stressful or new situations. I think if we tackled that then more people would move into work – but it’s a slower, more expensive option. However, if money was no object, that’s what I’d like to see.  
GC’s impact and expertise 
I’m proud of GC's work to support people with complex needs into work and encouraging businesses to put inclusive recruitment at the heart of their talent attraction strategy.  

We run a lot of Disability Confident events to inspire more employers to hire disabled people and we host inclusive recruitment events regularly so organisations can learn how to ensure that no one is excluded from their hiring process. We also have Aspire in Partnership, involved working with employers to make their workforce and their opportunities more inclusive. 

Then we’re also looking at our service design – so looking at the demographics of people we’ve got in different projects, programmes and offices and looking at what more we can do to better support them. For example, where we see a high instance of people with a physical health condition, we will look at how we can tailor our provision to give them the skills, confidence and individual support they need to move into work.  

What employers can do to make their recruitment practices more inclusive  

One of the main things I would reiterate to employers is to not go back to the status quo of pre-pandemic. Most of us have been able to work flexibly, so where it’s appropriate to do so, keep that flexibility. Look at productivity rather than the hours that someone is in front their workstation. 
It’s very much about questioning why there is a particular shift pattern: could you introduce flexible start and finish times? Does somebody need to do the full role, or could they do half the role and someone else do the other half? You might have always done it a particular way, but is it the right way? More employers are struggling to recruit, but there are loads of talent pools out there that they are missing due to the way in which they recruit and how the organisation is structured.  
There are lots of studies that show that disabled people are more loyal and bring different experiences. They have got very used to managing challenging situations having managed their disability or health condition. I think the more diverse your workforce is, the more perspectives you will have and that will bring lots of benefits to your business. 
Also, consider older workers and look at apprenticeships as a way of helping them to develop skills that are in line with the needs of your business. Move away from paying the minimum apprenticeship wage to help attract people who want to switch careers. They will be armed with lots of life experience, and you can train them on the job to help bridge skills gaps in your business. 

This Employability Day, I would encourage all businesses to think about their workforce and talent attraction strategies and look at ways to attract diverse and untapped talent pools that can make a huge difference to your business. To learn more about how the Growth Company can help you with this, visit the GC Employment or Aspire Recruitment websites.