Sunday, May 22, 2011

New Zealand recruitment firm aims to get disabled people employed

From the New Zealand Herald:

Late last year, Gay Barton (pictured), general manager NZ, of recruitment firm Drake International, created a new position.

She appointed Caroline Campbell, business development manager (diversity) - her aim, in part, was to bring the recruitment of workers with disabilities into the mainstream.

"Businesses, large or small are about people," said Barton. "All people. When considering our business, it is important to create a strategy that will enable us (our staff, our clients and our candidates) to do what we want to do and live the life that we want to enjoy."

Barton is interested in Drake partnering with organisations and government agencies that need support in employing disabled employees. Campbell can offer training to companies on how best to interact with people who have a disability.

Campbell has worked for a number of years in project management for the disability sector. She set up Paradigm, an initiative helping youth from 17-23 with disabilities find meaningful work.

A recent EEO Trust survey showed people with disabilities had higher-than-average tertiary qualifications.

Nearly 50 per cent had a degree, half of these at postgraduate level. Yet only 44 per cent of disabled adults are in the workforce. Those in the 25-44 age group have the highest unemployment rate.

"Getting your foot in the door is often the hardest part," said Campbell. "Employers have these fears that people will want to take time off for being unwell and will need more support in the workplace.

"In fact, 75 per cent of people with disabilities take less time off than workers without disabilities."

Disabilities vary from Asperger syndrome to deafness. The supreme winner of the ACC Attitude Awards held in December, Melanie Sloan, was a teacher in Oamaru who has struggled all her life with degenerative arthritis.

Until now, workers with disabilities have had their own employment agencies, such as Workbridge, to cater for them. Now welcome under the Drake umbrella, men and women with disabilities would have access to a larger database of employers, said Campbell.

"It may be an employer who comes to us, saying I want someone with these skills, who may or may not have a disability," she said.

"For a disabled person, they've had to develop all sorts of abilities, ones of self-reliance, problem solving, persistence and lateral thinking."

Philippa Reed, the CEO of the EEO Trust, said people who had personal experience of a disability through a family member or a close friend did not put up the same barriers. It was about bridging that gap to employers and helping to change attitudes, and creating realistic solutions, she said.

Once employers had taken the leap once, they would do it again, she said.

Sarah Halliday, manager of specialist recruitment consultancy people Elevator, said it was not just about money, it was about being part of society.

Elevator offers supported employment options for people with disabilities living in the Auckland region.

For employers: