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With the uncertainty of the world we are currently living in, it’s hard to imagine what life might look like after Covid-19 has relented. We’re quick to jump to saying “when this is all over” and “when we’re back to normal” but in reality, what is the reality we want to be in when we reach it?
Whether we want it to or not, life won’t be resembling anything like what we experienced before the lockdown. Not just in the big picture of human interaction and economic movement, but in the day to day; will our hearts have been changed because of the inevitable impact on our personal lives?
For some of us, work has been halted, for some of us it means we are working harder than ever before, and there will be many of us in the ‘in between’. The changes to our working lives have impacted every employee and jobseeker in our country; regardless of what letters may be after your name or what industry you are in. It’s also affected us all regardless of our neurodiversity and skill level. Since the pandemic hit the UK, Supported Employment West Sussex (comprising of WorkAid at the Aldingbourne Trust and Workability from Impact Initiatives) have been supporting people with lifelong disabilities and those who are carers to understand and process how the changes have affected them.
WorkAid have supported 185 people with a learning disability and/or autism into paid employment over the past three years (and hundreds more in the past 20 years of the project’s life so far), and respectively have given support and advice to numerous employers to enable them to feel confident about employing talented people who happen to have a learning disability or autism spectrum condition.
Out of the many lessons we have learnt from Covid-19, one of the most striking has been the ability of businesses to adapt to working virtually; using online platforms to hold team meetings from the kitchen table and thinking practically about how we encourage collaboration at work. It’s a bit of a misconception that all people who have an autism spectrum condition hate working in offices; it’s all down to how the individual experiences how their brain works. Some people with autism thrive in offices because they genuinely enjoy working with others and being in busy, noisy environments. However someone else may prefer to work alone because the pressure of unpredictable social interaction is too great; but would really enjoy having scheduled team meetings on a video platform so they still get an element of interaction with their colleagues, but can manage the impact this has on them.
This is just one example of how we could think differently about the expectations of workplaces in the post Covid-19 era. Could we be more flexible in our approach to working from home as a reasonable adjustment; in return you would still get or even retain the talented, committed employee you are searching for, but also they get to overcome a hurdle and gain or keep the job they have been working so hard to achieve?
Of course that example doesn’t fit for all industries and it would be small minded to think that there wouldn’t be challenges, but what if that was the beginning of something beautiful in recruitment?
We have also found that throughout this pandemic, many of our clients who are not shielding are incredibly keen to support their communities and step into front line roles in supermarkets, delivery driving and essential services. Their resilience, determination and enthusiasm has taken us by surprise in some ways, and has reminded us the true value of work isn’t money; its being part of something bigger. A team, a response, a community of people working together.
That sounds a little familiar; what is most likely written on your own job description, or have you typed the same sentence in your own recruitment adverts? “Willing to work as part of a team” “Must be a keen team-player” “You’ll be part of a vibrant and busy team” to name but a few common lines in job adverts. We often find that where people haven’t been given the opportunity to experience team-working, they struggle to ‘stand out’ to recruitment panels; could our recruitment practices actually be limiting team working potential? Having workplace trials and working job interviews can tell you so much more than just what an application form or an interview can tell you on their own. How often has the best person in an interview turned out to not quite hit the mark you were looking for? Working job interviews could give us so much insight into how a person might settle into a role; do they visibly pick up the online systems you’re using, or do they get stuck in to getting to know their potential colleagues and show interest in how the role they are interviewing for fits into the business as a whole.
For someone with a learning disability; having the opportunity to physically try the job role can be a really helpful insight into what the expectations of them are going to be. It can also be a chance to really demonstrate the things they are great at; they might be a skilled food preparer or be checkout operative who oozes natural charm and customer service but you might not get to see that if you just go by a traditional CV. We’re experimenting with video CVs at the moment; so that recruiters can visibly see somebody at work and demonstrating their ability; allowing the person to show their personality so much more vividly than two sides of A4 ever can. As a recruiter, would that style and approach to a CV be of interest?
The effect that Covid-19 is having on businesses throughout the UK is nothing short of devastating; it’s no secret that we are facing tough times ahead and many people are facing the prospect of losing their jobs, which will include those with lifelong disabilities. With low rates of employment in this area of the population, this is set to be another hurdle for people with disabilities to overcome but they aren’t alone. Thousands of people will be competing for jobs; isn’t it only fair that we make our recruitment practices accessible to even out the competition field? One thing is for sure, with the right support any employer can take on any employee who has a lifelong disability, which is where Supported Employment West Sussex can step in. We offer free advice and support to enable businesses take on an employee with a lifelong disability so that everyone involved feels positive, empowered and supported.
So my parting question is this; will you revert back to the ‘norm’ when recruiting post Covid-19, or would you like to be part of a historic moment where the workplace really does champion diversity in our communities?
For more information about how you can support existing staff with lifelong disabilities, or are in a position to welcome new staff into your business and would like to learn more about us, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org (learning disability and autism) or email@example.com (physical disability, sensory impairment and/or acquired brain injury, and those who are carers).