Reaching an untapped market – disabled workers

Around 25% of New Zealanders have a disability of some kind, a considerable proportion of the population. Yet, even though as a nation we are currently experiencing a tight labour market, employers are still reticent to employ disabled people.

Disabled people are overrepresented in unemployment statistics. Recent figures presented by Stats NZ reveal 7.9% of the disabled population are unemployed, compared with 3.3% of the general population.  Disabled people get paid less as well, with median wages well below those who are non-disabled.   

Why is that? What are the misperceptions and barriers facing business owners when they consider employing disabled people? And what can be done to overcome these biases?  

CEDA caught up with industry representatives Amanda Crossan of Workbridge, Poppy Clapperton of Industry Training Solutions and Kate Aplin of Volunteer Central to find out more.  

Debunking the myths 

There are several myths surrounding the employment of disabled people, some of which many businesses see as difficult to overcome. With nationwide staff shortages and ongoing challenges attracting talent putting the squeeze on businesses, there’s never been a better time to dispel some of these antiquated myths. 

Workbridge is a national disability agency with local offices based in Manawatū. Regional Service Manager Amanda Crossan encounters numerous concerns when she meets with potential employers.  

“Many feel that taking on an disabled employee will have implications for health and safety in their workplace, and they fear it will be time consuming and costly,” she says. 

More than anything else, those concerns come from a lack of knowledge around disability issues.” 

Many employers may not realise it, but it is likely they already employ disabled staff. Staff could be experiencing challenges like anxiety and depression, or potentially physical disabilities they do not feel comfortable disclosing, or do not disclose as they do not need accommodating.  

“The thing is, generally disabled people have fewer accidents in the workplace, as they have a greater awareness of their surroundings resulting in a positive impact on health and safety,” says Amanda. 

“Employers think they must make big accommodations, but for most people it’s not the case at all. It’s more about building awareness. 

“The biggest misperception is not understanding disability. Not the persons disability but the perception of what that disability means.” 

Poppy Clapperton, CEO of training provider Industry Training Solutions agrees.  

“Employers can even be nervous about what to say or how to broach the subject, they don’t want to get it wrong and offend,” she says. 

“If a potential employee wishes to discuss their disability or impairment, then my advice is to just ask – ask them whether they need support and how they prefer you to reference their disability or impairment. 

“After all we are all just people, and it’s important to respect that. 

“One of the key things is to make sure opportunities presented are appropriate for the employee and vice versa. 

“That may mean being realistic about what a role entails and managing expectations for both the employer and employee,” says Poppy. 

The benefits 

Employing disabled people can come with a wide range of benefits. An inclusive workplace improves company morale and overall culture, can reduce turnover, find untapped potential and ensures the business becomes more representative of their customer base.  

Poppy opened All Sorts Café two years ago to create a space welcoming all in the community, including those from social minorities, marginalised communities, and disabled people. 

“We have always considered it important to employ those who reflect our customer base – if one in four people are disabled, that’s 25% of your customer base, and also 25% of your potential workforce,” says Poppy. 

“Take the time to trial people and find a way to teach them, whether it’s doing so over smaller snippets of time, or by communicating in different ways. 

“Ultimately, if your staff are valued, whether disabled or not, they will shine and feel accepted for who they are.” 

Employing disabled people can also open untapped potential. The New Zealand Police are a great example of an organisation who have realised this, taking steps to create a more diverse workplace. Their Financial Crime Group have partnered with Autism New Zealand to employ three new staff, specifically people with autism. A Neurodivergence Programme pilot such as this, provides access to employment for those who would normally struggle through traditional recruitment processes. 

Disabled employees also tend to bring a strong sense of loyalty to a workplace.  

“Feedback from employers tells us that their disabled employees have better attendance, and they are as productive or more productive than those who are not disabled,” says Amanda Crossan.  

“That loyalty comes from the fact that you have recognised that person as a person and given them a chance to connect with the community.” 

Stronger loyalty from staff also leads to lower turnover and in turn helps a business’s bottom line in the long term.  

Employing disabled people

So how do business owners access potential disabled employees? How is the bridge gapped between employer and employee? 

That is where Workbridge and Industry Training Solutions are involved, along with Whatunga Tūao – Volunteer Central.  

Volunteer Central is a fantastic resource and as Manager Kate Aplin attests, “we are the only organisation that works right across the community.” 

Individuals register with Volunteer Central from all walks of life. They could be looking to gain skills before they go into employment for the first time, they may be between jobs wanting to add to their CV, retired or in full-time employment. 

“Ultimately, all are looking for contact and connections with their community.” 

Volunteer Central meets with people who, for example, are on ACC’s Return to Work and who need extra support accessing employment. They look at the support required and link with organisations they think are suitable, while also providing support to those organisations.  

“Essentially we act as an intermediary while both sides retain their mana,” says Kate. 

“Working with people whether they have disabilities or not, is about working collaboratively. We work with other organisations to make the best opportunities to move into the workplace. We don’t see the negatives, its about looking for solutions.” 

Amanda Crossan has noticed that more employers are thinking about inclusion and diversity in the workplace. 

“It’s a tight labour market at the moment so employers are thinking outside the box about their recruitment needs,” she says.  

“This has allowed us to get in front of employers, it has become a real opportunity.” 

For Amanda and the team at Workbridge the key is advocacy, dispelling the myths one employer at a time.  

Poppy Clapperton has noticed that younger people in particular are more accepting of differences and therefore more willing to take a chance on employing disabled people.  

“It’s a real movement, and something we can capitalise on, we just have to encourage and support to build the confidence of employers to hire disabled people.” 

There are also free services and support available when hiring disabled people through the Ministry of Social Development. These range from fee-free recruitment through to grants for special equipment or modifications to workspaces.  Workbridge can support businesses as they navigate their way through these services.  

If your business is looking for a more diverse workforce, then contact one of these helpful organisations to find out more. The disabled community can provide a huge number of opportunities for any business, and with increased knowledge and support, your organisation could benefit too. 

Workbridge: www.workbridge.co.nz Phone – 0508 858 858 

Industry Training Solutions: www.its.ac.nz Phone – 0800 464 487 

Volunteer Central: www.volunteercentral.nz Phone – 06 354 6027 

If you are a business in Palmy, Manawatū or Tararua, and you want to understand how employing disabled people can help you reach an untapped market and also benefit your bottom line, contact [email protected] to connect with a CEDA Business Growth Advisor. There is no cost involved, yet a wealth of opportunities available. 

If you’re looking to grow your business, CEDA can help

CEDA has an expert team of Business Growth Advisors who work across the Manawatū-Whanganui region, helping businesses of all sizes and in different sectors to grow.

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