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Disability employment: culture of access builds an able workforce

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A proactive stance on disability employment has been part of a cultural change at Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure that has benefitted the whole company.

“Recruiting disabled talent isn’t an act of charity – it’s what smart employers are doing to get ahead of the competition.” That is the view of the recently installed Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Justin Tomlinson. “There are 7.6 million working age people in the UK who have a disability, and many of them are more than able to work.”

Despite there still being those that see disabled people as either an expense or an inconvenience, there is at last growing recognition that having diverse teams is healthy for a business. Diane Lightfoot, CEO of the Business Disability Forum (BDF), comments: “It’s heartening to see an increasing number of companies recognising that they need to attract as wide a talent pool as possible and one that includes disabled people. Disabled people are incredibly talented and incredibly diverse, with a diverse range of strengths just like their non-disabled peers.

“A disabled candidate may need an adjustment in the workplace to do the job to the best of their ability, but those adjustments are usually small and inexpensive and can make the difference between employers getting the best candidate for the job or not.”

One construction company, Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure, started on an inclusion journey four years ago – quite an undertaking for a company in this very traditional sector. Championing this process is Dawn Moore, director of human resources, who stresses that it is an ongoing journey: “You’re not going to change overnight the fact that it’s very male-​dominated. Or that ethnic representation hasn’t been great. And you’re not going to change overnight the fact that other under-represented groups, like disabled people, might not necessarily look at construction as a sector that’s easy to get into. But we are determined to change it. And we’ve made some good progress, over the last four years or so, but there’s lots more to do as well.”

The idea has been to challenge everyone, at every level, in the company to think and behave differently. Do sites need to be set up in a certain way – the way they always have been – when different approaches could aid inclusivity? And could the channels be broadened, and messages changed, to pull in a wider talent pool during recruitment? Such changes take time, but Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure is hoping that it will take them to ‘Leader’ status in the government’s Disability Confident scheme.

Disability Confident has three levels, with an encouraging 8,300 companies signed up to the ‘Committed’ level, which involves engaging in a programme to recruit and retain disabled people.

The step up from that is ‘Employer’, adopted by a further 3,200 companies, which is where actions have to deliver on the good intentions.

Finally, there are a couple of hundred companies that have attained ‘Leader’ status on account of demonstrating to employees, customers and communities the positive influence of having disabled people as part of its diverse workforce.

None of the Leaders are construction or heavy engineering companies – only a few even have much to do with technology – but it is into this territory that Dawn Moore is leading Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure, hopefully within the next 12 months and with support from the BDF. “We’ve had the Level 2 accreditation from the DWP since 2014 and it’s been great for us, it’s about creating the culture where anybody can thrive,” she explains.

‘I am really impressed by Morgan Sindall’s commitment to setting the standard for disability employment within the sector and their recognition of the benefits, not just for employees with disabilities, but also for the company in reaching the widest possible talent pool.’

Diane Lightfoot, Business Disability Forum

While providing better accessibility options and workplace availability are the obvious physical steps that a company would take to cater for disabled employees, it is as much the clarity and consistency of the core message that has changed the way Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure operates.

Helped by having a member of the senior management team who has a physical disability, the mentality of inclusivity is becoming ingrained throughout all layers of management. Awareness of an individual’s needs, whether disabled or not, are now much better recognised. Flexible working is a particular example which now applies to all employees, and can play an important supportive role for employees who may have changing family or health situations. The benefits are being felt company-wide.

Moore says: “When we started this journey four years ago, not only was our diversity profile different, our employee engagement wasn’t great. According to our staff survey at the time, we only had 50 per cent of people, for example, who’d recommend us as an employer. When we did the same survey again last year, 95 per cent said they would.”

Further evidence of this change of culture is that 90 per cent of employees feel they are included and respected by their line manager, compared to only one-in-two four years previously. And 99 per cent said they believed that their well-being was the company’s number one priority.

The well-publicised skills shortage should not, therefore, be accepted lying down, according to Moore. “My view on this is there is only a skills shortage if you create one. There are pools of people, like those who are disabled, and it’s just about creating the conditions where they can, and want to, come and work for you and then stay with you. We’ve worked hard on not shutting down this pool of talent. Yes, because it is the right thing to do, but also to encourage the best staff, whoever they are.”

For the government, Tomlinson agrees: “It’s no longer good enough for employers to make excuses. Business can reap the many rewards of being inclusive.”

Rather than being obliged to take action, Morgan Sindall is proving that the consequences of taking a proactive approach have been far-reaching and overwhelmingly positive.

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