Interview: with Dr Nasser Siabi OBE, CEO of Microlink

A new research report has been launched by the Transitions to Employment Group Sub-Group chaired by Dr Siabi on improving the transition of disabled students from education to employment. We caught up with Dr Siabi to find out more.

Q: What motivated you to spearhead research into how there can be better transitions for disabled students into work?

A: I have always been passionate about addressing the barriers that far too many disabled people face in the employment market and so we need to go upstream to help disabled young people enter the labour market with more skills and confidence and for employers to have access to the advice and support that makes them more confident about providing opportunities to young disabled people too.

The Government’s ambition is to halve the unemployment gap between disabled and non-disabled people which stands at 33%. Added to this, disabled people make up nearly half of unemployed and economically inactive people in Britain. If the Government is to reach its target, we need much better, more integrated pathways between schools, colleges, universities and employers. We also need Government particularly to address system failures which mean that too often disabled students don’t get relevant support and advice when studying to be work-ready and employers get too little advice and support to provide opportunities for these students.

Q: So what did your review work find?

A: The review work identified nine broad challenges each with specific calls to action. These can be broken down into four key areas:

*Greater employer buy-in and commitment
*Better employment outcomes from further education and training
*More seamless and coherent support
*More professional and disability aware careers advice at school age

The report outlines the problems and challenges we're trying to solve and provides clear guidance for how each area should be tackled. In terms of employer buy-in, for example, there is compelling evidence of businesses recognising the benefits of having access to the widest possible talent pool. A more diverse workforce strengthens business creativity and encourages more retention of all employees, including disabled employees. At my business for example we have close to 40% of staff sharing that they have a disability or long term health needs. We’re an SME but because we are committed to recruiting and retaining disabled people, our relative smallness doesn’t get in the way. It’s commitment first and foremost.

Q: So a lack of commitment is a key challenge. What else?

A: The review highlighted a range of obstacles which perpetuate the current unemployment gap between disabled and non-disabled people. I’d encourage people to read the report.

For example, the review found that there still exists a perception amongst employers that workplace adjustments are costly and that some employers start from the premise that disabled people as less productive than non-disabled employees.

Standard recruitment processes were also assessed and found wanting. This was consistent with work BDF has done which finds that recruitment processes have barriers for many disabled people at every stage: talent attraction, job design, application, interview/assessment, on-boarding. There are some excellent examples of businesses that do well, but, by and large, most do not do it well yet.

Q: So what can be done?

A: Our sub-group agreed that the building blocks were in place to make a big step forward in terms of job outcomes. One of the main actions is to seize the opportunities provided through the supported internship programme. Employment related support to students with moderate to severe learning difficulties appears to have a positive impact on their employment prospects, and on the attitudes of employers involved.

Supported internships are already hugely successful in supporting young people with special educational needs during their transition from education to employment. It's vital that we promote how employers are successfully offering these internships. We need more toolkits, resources and case studies documenting their success stories.

Q: So what are your conclusions?

A The From Learning to Earning report contains valuable advice on how we can move forward as a more inclusive society. There are some clear pointers for how we can help more young people prosper in the workplace. More work experience opportunities, better help for young people making the step into work, more support for employers and smoother transitions from support in education to support in the workplace.

We are also working with BDF to bring together some businesses and universities that want to do get this right; so we can model an approach that can work. There’s an event planned for the autumn and hopefully it won’t be too long after that we can showcase some new success stories.

To view and download the full report: From Learning to Earning: Transitions into employment for young people with SEND, visit the Microlink website

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