A new project to engage with employers across the Border, Midlands, West (BMW) region and to increase the number of people with disabilities working in the open labour market was launched recently by Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan TD.
Open Door is an initiative by the Irish Association of Supported Employment (IASE). It aims to engage with some 1500 employers across the BMW region over the next two years, and to see at least 100 jobseekers with disabilities supported into jobs over that time. The Open Door project will see a series of employer-focussed events taking place across the region in a bid to promote the concept of supported employment and the business benefits of the model. The ultimate aim of the project is to link more employers with their local supported employment services to support people with disabilities into the workplace. The Open Door project will focus strongly on engaging with employers who currently do not employ people with disabilities.
Margaret Halloran is one of two IASE employment development officers working on the project. ‘The main aim of the project is to promote the concept of supported employment to employers,’ she explained. ‘We particularly want to meet with employers who may not have any experience of supported employment or are not aware of the supports and services available to them in their locality. The majority of employers in the private sector do not actually have a person with a self-disclosed disability in their workforce. The reasons for this are many. Some employers simply never received a job application from a person with a disability, some have never thought about the issue. There’s also evidence of a substantial level of uncertainty among employers when it comes to hiring a person with a disability. I hope to meet with employers over the coming months to highlight the proven business benefits of supported employment, which helps bring about more inclusive recruitment and workplace practices.’
The Open Door Project is a Disability Activation Project co-funded by the European Union under the European Social Fund (Human Capital Investment Operation Programme 2007–2013), and the Irish government through the Department of Social Protection and Pobal.
Sarah Togher is the national coordinator of the IASE. She said the Open Door project is unique because its main aim will be to highlight the ‘business case’ for supported employment: ‘Employers, quite rightly, have to base all of their decisions on what is right and best for their business. We hope to show employers who are not yet involved in supported employment, that there is a very strong business case for supported employment. The benefits of supported employment for employers are many: ‘Firstly, it is well-documented that a diverse, integrated workforce promotes creativity, innovation and boosts staff morale and productivity. Supported employment also reduces recruitment costs as it is a free service. It reduces recruitment risks too because the job coach carries out extensive vocational profiling and matches the candidate, their skills, training and interests to the employer’s specific requirements. The job coach then continues to support the employer and their new employee.
‘Businesses can also use supported employment to reach out to new customers. They can promote their business as fair and accessibly. People with disabilities in Ireland actually have a potential spending power of €3.3 billion and it is quite likely these customers, their families and friends would be more inclined to shop or use the services of a business which is clearly demonstrating its commitment to accessibility and diversity.’
The first Open Door events are planned for September 2013. The project continues until April 2015.