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Welcoming staff with disabilities
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Providing employment and support to a person with visible or hidden disabilities is often easier and more rewarding than businesses might think. Ben Walker MIH reports

More than seven and a half million people of working age in the UK are disabled or have a health condition. Historically there has been a significant gap between the proportion of disabled people employed compared with non-disabled people. Encouraging applications from disabled people is good for business, says the UK Government. It can help businesses to:

increase the number of high quality applicants available

create a workforce that reflects the diverse range of customers it serves and the community in which it is based

bring additional skills to the business, such as the ability to use British Sign Language (BSL), which could result in large savings

The benefits of retaining an experienced, skilled employee who has an impairment are usually greater than recruiting and training new staff. It is also good for the individuals.

Sam Goss FIH is the general manager of Moor Hall Hotel & Spa in Sutton Coldfield and the chair of the Institute’s newly relaunched Midlands Branch. He has recently taken on two new members of staff with special needs and says that the experience has been a very positive one.

At a business networking group, Goss met Julie Pallister, the placement coordinator for The Hive College, Birmingham, a specialist vocational college for students aged 19 to 25 with either physical or learning special needs. Conditions range from cerebral palsy, hearing impairments, to learning difficulties and autism.

Goss says: “We started with Sakandar Hussein (pictured right), a lovely guy who is interested in food and catering. We met with him, our head chef and two people from the College and he started on a one-day a week placement just learning the basic skills in the kitchen. He has now moved onto a supported internship with is three days a week with a support tutor from the College, so he’s very much part of our team. Hopefully that will progress to full-time work.”

Goss explains that the fundamental reason for working with The Hive College is to fill vacancies: “We all know there are challenges and difficulties recruiting chefs in the UK and so it’s a great initiative being able to work with organisations like The Hive. Sakandar has minor special needs related to learning and autism. The College and his parents are very grateful to us for supporting him, but we are very grateful to have him here. He’s a great member of the team.”

In a video post made by the College, Hussein says: “I am 20 years old and have always wanted to work in the food and catering industry. The Hive College found me a work placement at Moor Hall Hotel & Spa in Sutton Coldfield, a five-star hotel catering for high-quality weddings and events. I want to work more to learn my knowledge and develop new skills and hopefully at the end get paid employment and stand on my own two feet.”

Goss also has another student from The Hive who is working in a gardening and maintenance role.

Julie Pallister explains the college’s approach to placements: “We do not want to create work for employers. We are there to help them. I will get to know the strengths and skills of the students and then carefully job-match them with a role that is meaningful to both the student and the employer. All of our students are accompanied by a work placement supervisor supplied by us who learns the job role themselves so that they can break down the tasks for the students until the student is able to complete the job independently.”

“This programme is having amazing results. We progressed 90% of our students into paid employment last academic year which is absolutely fantastic,” she says.

The importance of hospitality and catering to The Hive College is underlined by the fact that all of its students receive basic food hygiene training before going into placements. This training is delivered irrespective of what areas of work they pursue.

Pallister adds: “We find that kitchen assistant roles and apprentice chef roles are fantastic for our students. They are practical skills that we can break down into small manageable chunks and then it’s just a case of repeating them until they have got that skill.”

“I’m trying as much as I can to get out into the hospitality businesses in the Midlands because hospitality is working brilliantly for our students. I’m looking for employers to see the benefits of what we are doing and get our name out there.”

Only 7% of young people with a disability move into employment after finishing formal education, research shows. “This is such a waste of talent and leaves them with no prospects and a life on benefits,” says Pallister.

The Hive College has gone from strength to strength since it opened in 2013, she says. Students who once had a low self-esteem and lacked confidence in themselves transform into confident individuals who add real value to  businesses.

Moving to another part of the country, The Grand Hotel in Folkstone is working with the Shaw Trust, one of the largest UK charities that helps disabled individuals into employment, and E-Training, a local training provider. The hotel recently arranged for a group with special needs to attend two weeks of classroom-based customer service training followed by a period of on-the-job work experience.

The hotel’s general manager Robert Richardson FIH said that the initiative had been a success. “The group of eight, were initially nervous but gained demonstrably improved levels of self-confidence and experience. We made a job offer to one of them, Michael Dorgan (pictured right) and I am delighted to say he accepted and has completed his first shift on the payroll.”

Richardson adds that the hotel is now ‘Disability Confident Committed’ under a voluntary government sponsored self-assessment scheme. The Disability Confident scheme supports employers to make the most of the talents disabled people can bring to the workplace. The scheme aims to help businesses successfully recruit and retain disabled people and those with health conditions.

Richardson now aims to train five groups of students in his hotel each year, amounting to about 40 students in total. He says: “We can’t offer jobs to everyone but we can make a difference today, in terms of self-confidence, development and essentially showing people that may have a harder living situation than us that as a business community we care. Conversely, if my situation changed as a result of illness or accident, I’d like to think there would be open-minded employers out there who would support me.”

Under the 2010 Equality Act, employers must make reasonable adjustments to support disabled job applicants and employees. This means ensuring disabled people can overcome any substantial disadvantages they may have doing their jobs and progressing in work. Many reasonable adjustments involve little or no cost and could include:

making changes to a disabled person’s working pattern

providing training or mentoring

making alterations to premises

ensuring that information is provided in accessible formats

modifying or acquiring equipment

allowing extra time during selection ‘tests’

The employer’s guide Access to Work can help towards the costs of making reasonable adjustments. If you’re a business with 25 or fewer employees, you can get extra support through Jobcentre Plus to help you recruit and retain staff with a disability or health condition. This support includes:

matching candidates to jobs

support through the interview process

advice on workplace adaptations, induction and mentoring

help arranging in-work support from local community specialists

help completing an Access to Work application

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