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Becoming a disability confident employer

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Working for High Speed Two (HS2), Costain Skanska joint venture (CSjv) became a Level 3: Disability Confident Leader employer to provide better support for disabled employees and attract a wider range of talent to support recruitment.

This paper demonstrates how achieving Level 3: Disability Confident Leader status has helped CSjv ensure that the best people are found for each role, reinforce a culture of fairness and inclusion, and upskill the wider industry. This has led to higher and more accurate disability reporting. The paper will be of interest to future projects and programmes looking to recruit and support a workforce inclusive of disabled people

Background and industry context

In the UK, 19% of working-age people have a disability.[1] Yet, only 52.1% of working-age disabled people were in employment between July and September 2020, compared with 81.3% of working-age non-disabled people.[2] Disabled people are faced with multiple barriers when it comes to finding work. This results in higher poverty rates for disabled people than the rest of the population. Indeed, disabled people account for 28% of people in poverty.[3]

It is hard to gauge an accurate picture of disability within the construction workforce, but the HS2 target is for 5% of its workforce to be made up of disabled people.

The Disability Confident scheme was launched by the UK Government to encourage employers to think differently about disability and take action to improve how they recruit, retain and develop disabled people.

There are three Disability Confident levels, each of which must be completed before moving onto the next; CSjv is a Level 3: Disability Confident Leader. This is the only level which requires an employer to subject their Disability Confident Employer self-assessment to independent validation, ensuring that they are delivering against all the core actions and employing disabled people.

Approach

During the work on the HS2 Enabling Works Contract (EWC), CSjv became Disability Confident in 2018. The process involved:

Re-assessing recruitment

  • Automatically offering an interview to disabled people who meet the minimum job criteria.
  • Actively attracting disabled people to help fill vacancies for jobs, work experience, internships, apprenticeships, etc., through engagement with Jobcentre Plus, Work and Health programme providers and local disabled people’s user-led organisations.
  • Providing an inclusive and accessible recruitment process and proactively offering and making reasonable adjustments.

Engraining an inclusive culture

  • Training all staff on what disability is and challenging stigma, for example providing training with Guide Dogs UK to ensure works are accessible to the public – 100% of 50 participants rated this training as ‘excellent’, with very positive feedback attesting to the value it provided. One participant shared that: “The course gave me a different perspective and made me think about why appropriate traffic management is so important.”
  • Ensuring all staff understand their role and responsibilities in administering reasonable adjustments.
  • Supporting employees to manage their disabilities or health conditions.
  • In-depth training for designated roles, for example on accessible communication and inclusive language.

Upskilling the industry

  • Encouraging suppliers and partners to become Disability Confident: 11 suppliers are now Disability Confident, one of which is a Level 2: Disability Confident Employer and 10 of which are Level 1: Disability Confident Committed.
  • Actively contributing to forums and multiple organisations devoted to supporting disabled people into work, including: partnering with Leonard Cheshire’s Change 100 programme; advertising six roles with Evenbreak, an accessible job search site for disabled people; and hosting a quarterly supply chain forum to discuss the Disability Confident scheme with other contractors. See Learning Legacy paper Looking Further to Fill Our Hard-To-Fill Vacancies
  • Offering free consultations and support to other businesses on various aspects of the CSjv Disability Confident strategy, including part of the supply chain and parent companies who had not achieved the accreditation.
  • Providing Disability Confidence training to all suppliers and their staff.

Learning and outcomes

Learning

Becoming Disability Confident has helped CSjv to ensure that the best people are found for each role. CSjv is committed to creating an inclusive environment for all staff to thrive and the scheme provides a way to upskill teams as well as find new people to join the industry.

Disability is often associated in the general mindset with wheelchair users or sensory impairment such as sight or hearing impairments. It was learnt that staff did not fully understand the broad range of disabilities, and so it was important to create awareness of the wider spectrum of disabilities, from neurodiversity to learning disabilities and chronic diseases.

The BS 8300 guidance was followed to ensure sites and offices were accessible.[4] Lifts were installed where possible, and it was ensured that ground floors were accessible with a variety of meeting/workspaces if a lift was not reasonable. Toolbox talks were delivered on neurodiversity and graduates with a disability were supported into employment through the Change 100 programme.

Provided in support of this paper are materials from a ‘Disability in the Workplace’ Lunch and Learn presentation, developed in 2016 and included here as a signpost to be developed by future projects. Also provided is a version of the CSjv Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) requirements for setting up sites and offices – this best practice has already been usefully adopted and built on by Skanska Costain STRABAG (SCS) joint venture with added EDI requirements, for example for people requiring reflection space at work and spaces for transgender colleagues.

It was initially challenging to track candidates who disclosed a disability through the recruitment process. This required some minor upgrades to the recruitment platform, adding wording to the recruitment portal to encourage candidates to disclose, and upskilling recruitment managers to discuss candidate needs when invited to interview.

The importance of disclosing disabilities was promoted internally. Inclusive language was used in the diversity monitoring form, and the meaning of disability was explained in the form. This led to higher and more accurate disability reporting.

Outcomes

After becoming Disability Confident, the disclosure rate increased: over 84% of staff declared their status, from the 46% declaration average in the six months before the campaign. The number of people disclosed as disabled also rose from 2% to 9% of the workforce – higher than the HS2 target of 5%. This reiterated the importance of engraining an inclusive culture.

The cultural and operational benefits for CSjv of employing a more diverse workforce in general can be illustrated by the Customer Experience Representative (CER) programme. This diverse team has ensured safe and appropriate work with pedestrians around Euston Station: the data collected shows that 67% of customers said that they felt safer with CERs, and the team’s engagement and proactive communication has resulted in zero safety incidents.

Recommendations

  • Becoming a Disability Confident employer requires support and buy-in from many different stakeholders.
  • Be clear from the start how this scheme brings benefits to attract, recruit and retain employees, and work together as a team to put relevant initiatives into place.

Conclusion

CSjv has demonstrated how becoming a Level 3: Disability Confident Leader employer led to higher and more accurate disability reporting and enabled better support for disabled people in the workplace. Engagement and collaboration with HR, the EDI Team and hiring managers was essential to this success.

This paper will be of interest to future projects and programmes looking to recruit and support a workforce inclusive of disabled people.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to the EDI Team and HR Teams at CSjv.

References

[1] Department for Work and Pensions. Family Resources Survey: financial year 2019 to 2020. [internet]. 2021 Mar 25 [cited 2021 Aug 12]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/family-resources-survey-financial-year-2019-to-2020/family-resources-survey-financial-year-2019-to-2020#disability-1.

[2] Office for National Statistics. Outcomes for disabled people in the UK: 2020. [internet]. 2021 Feb 18 [cited 2021 Aug 12]. Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/disability/articles/outcomesfordisabledpeopleintheuk/latest.

[3] New Policy Institute. Disability and Poverty. [internet]. 2016 Aug [cited 2021 Aug 12]. Available from: https://www.npi.org.uk/publications/income-and-poverty/disability-and-poverty/#:~:text=Second%2C%20disabled%20people%20make%20up%2028%25%20of%20people,with%20a%20disabled%20person%20or%20are%20disabled%20themselves.

[4] BS 8300-1:2018 Design of an accessible and inclusive built environment. External environment – code of practice. British Standards Institution, London, 2018.

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