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Ability or disability: What do you see in a job candidate? By Louise Druce


Nick Goss is a disability employment consultant who has worked with some of the world's largest organisations to implement a best practice approach to disability confidence. A wheelchair user himself, Louise Druce talks to him about some of the challenges companies face trying to get it right.

It’s all very well giving employers advice about how they can bring more disabled people into the workplace but what is it actually like to go through the whole recruitment process and ensure that not only are you staying on the right side of the law but selecting the right person for the job?

Nick Goss is a disability employment consultant and director of Goss Consultancy, a leading provider of disability confidence training and consulting, and TalentMatch, one of the first commercial recruitment agencies to specialise in recruiting disabled people. And as a wheelchair user, he has had first hand experience of some of the challenges both disabled people and companies face trying to get it right.

"I’ve always been a ‘yes and…’ person, rather than a ‘yes but…’ person," he says. "How can I work with an employer to help them to understand my needs, understand disability needs and put in place practical measures? For me it’s about saying ‘yes, this is really good but have you thought about doing it this way or can we look at that?’ Employers need to feel confident and comfortable if they need to ask questions."

A former diversity manager for The Royal Bank of Scotland Group, Goss has worked with some of the world's largest organisations including InterContinental Hotels Group, Sainsbury’s and the Post Office Ltd, to help them identify and implement a best practice approach to disability confidence. The first thing he champions is an understanding that it’s not all a one-way street.

"There is a will among employers but what they need is support," he explains. "It is really important for the employer to develop the right environment where disabled people feel able to disclose their disability any time during the employment process, and that really does require a communication strategy. It’s not about a policy statement or an annual employee survey but how an employer develops a strategy of continuously reinforcing the fact that they want to manage disability positively."

The first step is getting past some of the misconceptions that employers may have about disabled people and concentrating on their abilities rather than their disabilities.

"Employers do feel as if they need to recruit disabled people in a different way to anyone else. There may be adjustments that you have to make but it is important that employers have the mainstream tools in place – for example, effective job descriptions which explain the job in greater detail." This, says Goss, will partially solve the issue of whether or not a person with a disability can do the job in the first place without the interviewer having to go through endless awkward questions, or put themselves legally at risk by asking the wrong ones.

"To begin with, you need to find the right people for the job. Then you need to identify their disability-related needs and think about the reasonable adjustments to be made," he says.

"It is really important for the employer to develop the right environment where disabled people feel able to disclose their disability any time during the employment process, and that really does require a communication strategy"

Nick Goss

"Throughout the recruitment process, there have to be clear protocols in place about when disability or aid information should be disclosed. For instance, we work with a lot of employers on how to gather disability related information and how to make sure the right people get it at the right time. There need to be procedures for both managing the risk of getting it wrong as well as maximising the opportunity to get it right."

Honesty makes the best policies

Goss believes the key point is not to sidestep the issue of how people feel about disability and pretend that all recruiters are 100% confident about how they’re going to bring a disabled person onboard. "We need to be honest. We can have the best policies in the world but people do have real anxiety about different types of disability. We need to acknowledge that and help provide the tools and standards within the business to manage it properly, from the HR person to the line manager on the ground. Make sure everyone involved in recruitment knows where to go to get expert advice," he urges.

This is equally true for people who may not have had a disability when they first joined the company. Figures show that seven out of 10 disabled people become disabled during their working lives, but they also reveal that the longer a disabled person is off work, the harder it is for them to return. "Again, it’s about having the processes in place so that absences can be identified early on in the process; they can be managed in the right way; they can be supported and that, again, people feel they can say it is disability related," says Goss.

"It is always about looking at a person’s abilities and thinking about what they can do rather than what they can’t do. The law can never be prescriptive about how you meet individual needs. You need to look at the individual circumstances."

So what happens if you think you already have policies in place that are fair, balanced and underpinned by a clear career process and you still can’t find a disabled person who is either right for or willing to do the job? It’s something that Goss is familiar with – in fact, it was this very issue that spawned TalentMatch. He believes managing and monitoring are the watch words.

"We’ve worked with some very big employers who have spent a lot of time, effort and money getting disability policy and practices into place but still had massive problems attracting talented disabled people," he says. "You need to look at what you are doing to get people to apply.

"We focus a lot on job analysis and helping employers to really understand what the role actually involves in the first place so it can be communicated effectively. Monitoring throughout the process is also very important – how many people applied for the job? How many people are getting through to first and second interview? How well are they doing compared to other candidates? This then enables the employer to look at what is working and where the interviewer might gain."

And don’t be put off if it doesn’t work the first time around. Goss says: "If an employer or a candidate has a bad experience it is nearly impossible to get their confidence back. But if an interview with a disabled candidate doesn’t work it is not a reason to say I am never going to employ a disabled person again. Look at why it hasn’t worked."

He continues: "It is the same for disabled people. They need to have the opportunity to achieve but they also have to have the right to fail like everyone else. Just like a person without a disability, sometimes a disabled person will go for the wrong job and there will be reasons why the interview wasn’t successful. You need to look at what went well and what didn’t. Learn from it to find a positive solution. Accept that from time to time it won’t work out.

"There is evidence to show that if a disabled person finds the right job for them they stay with the company a lot longer than non-disabled people," he adds. "But it doesn’t help anybody to employ the wrong person for the wrong reasons. It’s about choosing the right people for the right reasons."

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