Employers and the New Deal for Disabled People
Qualitative Research, Second Wave
Aston J, Willison R, Davis S, Barkworth R
Research Report DWPRR 231, Department for Work and Pensions, February 2005
commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions
This summary outlines the key findings of the second wave of qualitative research with employers regarding the New Deal for Disabled People (NDDP). It was part of a comprehensive research and evaluation programme into NDDP, commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions and being carried out by a research consortium, using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. This second wave of qualitative research with employers was carried out when NDDP had been operating nationally for two years. It follows on from the first wave, which was carried out 18 months previously, and is based on in-depth interviews with 50 employers, all of whom were known to have taken part in NDDP. These employers were selected on the basis that they were nominated by Job Brokers as examples of good practice. In addition, the research design ensured that the employers covered a range of geographical locations, employer types in terms of size, sector, etc., and types of Job Broker.
Employers’ perspectives and experiences
Most employers had equal opportunities policies or statements, and virtually all employers knew of the Disability Discrimination Act. However, the depth of knowledge varied widely, as did definitions of disability, with employers who were less experienced in recruiting and employing disabled people tending to take a more narrow view of disability. Recruitment of disabled people was mainly concentrated in low level skilled or semi-skilled work, and non-manual or very light manual work, although there were some exceptions to this. Employees with a range of impairments and conditions of varying severity were reported.
Employers felt fairly well informed about any disabilities or health conditions amongst their staff, although there were differences between visible and hidden disabilities. Employers reported that they would usually learn of a person’s disability or health condition during the application process, either through a question on the application form, or as a result of adjustments needed to enable the candidate to attend an interview.
The benefits and constraints of employing disabled people
Perceived advantages were expressed generally in terms of business benefits and ethical practices. Specific benefits included reflecting the diversity of the community, providing a wider range of skills and perspectives, and a wider labour market from which to recruit loyal, hard-working employees. A good proportion of employers reported no discernible disadvantages to employing disabled people. Where disadvantages were mentioned, these were specific to a particular situation or type of disability and role, rather than being a disadvantage of employing disabled people and people with health conditions as a whole.
Adjustments and sources of support
Financial implications were the most commonly cited constraints to employing people with health conditions and disabilities. These were expressed in terms of the costs of making adjustments, high sickness absence and, less commonly cited, a diminished rate of effectiveness by some staff with health conditions or disabilities. More than three-quarters of the employers in the sample reported having made adjustments and/or adaptations both for existing employees and for those hired through NDDP. These included physical adaptations, for example to office furniture, specialist computer equipment and software, and adjustments to procedures, for example changes to job or role, changes to working hours, and changes to the level of supervision or support provided.
Larger organisations reported having access to internal sources of support, most usually human resources and occupational health, which they would approach before seeking advice outside their organisation. However, some employers had consulted external groups for help and advice in dealing with the needs of particular employees. These groups included disability generalists and groups with more specific remits involving, for example, a particular condition.
Employers’ awareness of NDDP
There was a low level of conscious involvement in NDDP as a named initiative. Knowledge of, and involvement with, the Job Brokers who delivered it was higher, as was knowledge of the New Deal brand more generally (in line with deliberate policy, NDDP is not always delivered explicitly under its own name, and is sometimes delivered alongside other labour market initiatives, such as WORKSTEP).
Many Job Brokers concentrated the majority of their efforts on customers alone, and had little or no direct involvement with employers. Where employers had heard of NDDP specifically, this was often through existing contacts and networks, or through previous employment, colleagues or friends, rather than as a result of direct contact from a Job Broker.
The relationship between Job Brokers and employers
Contact between Job Brokers and employers had often been generated through NDDP, although some of the best-developed relationships predated it. There was considerable variety in the nature of these relationships, but as reported in Wave 1, initial contact was usually with reference to a specific vacancy; less frequently it was ‘on spec.’ contact regarding a customer. Job Broker services focused mainly on filling vacancies and recruitment, and employers were most usually reactive, whether this was regarding vacancies or support, following job entry. A number of employers reported ongoing contact with a Job Broker, which was characterised by a high level of interaction and a good amount of reported mutual understanding. In the closest relationships, other innovative partnership work had taken place, such as open days, tasters, etc.
Job Brokers provided an intermediary point of contact for customers and employers, and were seen as a ‘safe’ person with whom the customer could discuss concerns or problems. Having a central point of contact with the Job Broker emerged as having been important for some of the employers, for reasons including continuity, familiarity and trust. Major problems were seldom reported. Where any existed, they tended to be seen as areas for improvement rather than as disincentives to future involvement. Extra requirements from employers centred around more general contact, information, additional practical help with adjustments, training and settling in.
Outcomes of involvement in NDDP
Employers reported that recruitment assistance, particularly pre-selection, was an important benefit of involvement. Several employers commented that it was the provision of suitable candidates for the job, rather than the fact that it helped them to recruit people with health conditions and disabilities, that was key. Others wished to promote diversity in their organisation, or were using the programme as an additional route to employing disabled people and people with health conditions. Several employers had employed just one NDDP recruit, but others had employed ten or more, with recruitment seeming to be potentially ongoing. Compared to the Wave 1 research, people with a wider range of health conditions and disabilities appear to have been employed through the programme. Contact between Job Broker and employer did not always result in an ongoing relationship, particularly when the number of recruits had been limited. However, several employers reported regular ongoing contact, for the purposes of supporting customers in post, and with a view to future placements.
The Job Broker interventions had clearly had a significant impact at the level of individual customers, particularly in terms of customer confidence and access to post-recruitment support which would otherwise not have been available. Some of the appointments would not have been made without the support of the Job Broker.
Employers and the New Deal for Disabled People: Qualitative Research, Second Wave, Aston J, Willison R, Davis S, Barkworth R. Research Report DWPRR 231, Department for Work and Pensions, 2005.
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