Engaging Employers in Recruiting People with Disabilities

This blog is based on an article in Social Policy and Society. Click here to read the Open Access article.

Welfare-to-work policies and scholars have paid surprisingly little attention to the role of employers in promoting jobseekers’ labour-market participation. Although employers are gate-keepers to the labour market, welfare-to-work policies mainly focused on making jobseekers ‘job ready’. This supply-side orientation of welfare-to-work has become problematic as the focus of these policies increasingly shifted towards more vulnerable groups of jobseekers, such as people with disabilities. Promoting these groups’ labour-market participation not only requires interventions aimed to make jobseekers job ready; it also requires interventions aimed at making work organisations jobseeker ready. Put differently, employing people with disabilities asks for joint efforts of (government) social policies and (organisational) human resource management policies.

This latter approach forms the basis of a recent policy introduced in the Netherlands. The policy is based on a social contract between government, trade unions and employer associations. This contract included a Job Agreement in which employers in public and private sectors entered a commitment to create 125,000 jobs for people with disabilities in the period 2016-2026. The target group of the policy includes people with physical, mental/intellectual, as well as psychological disabilities who are unable to earn a minimum wage independently, due to reduced productivity as a consequence of these disabilities. The Dutch government created a last resort mechanism to put pressure on employers; in case employers fail to meet yearly job creation targets, a quota will become effective. Apart from this quota threat, positive incentives were introduced as well. These include, among others, a wage subsidy system, job coach facilities, and support and advice for employers provided by the agencies responsible for activating jobseekers (the benefit agency and local welfare agencies).

This article reports on a study of employers participating in the policy. The study aimed to map the human resource management challenges employers encounter when hiring and placing jobseekers from the Job Agreement’s target group. It also investigated employers’ needs for support in dealing with these challenges. Evidently, the employers in our study are not representative for all Dutch employers: they already are inclusive in the sense that they hired disabled persons. However, insights into the experiences of these ‘inclusive employers’ may provide valuable lessons into how more employers can be motivated and supported to participate in the policy.

Some of the core findings of the study include the following:

1) Employers experience a wide range of challenges in employing people with disabilities. These can be categorized in three groups: challenges related to policy regulation and implementation; challenges related to recruitment and placement; and challenges related to making placements sustainable.

2) The challenges employers experience are not only related to characteristics of the target group, but also to the way in which employers frame the challenge of ‘inclusiveness’ in the first place. Amongst others, employers differ in the degree to which they consider standard human resource management and personnel policies and practices in their organizations as part of the challenge of becoming more inclusive.

3) Although the Dutch policy primarily aims at engaging employers, respondents in our study point out that all organisational actors’ engagement is important in making the policy successful. Engaging employers is only part of the challenge of promoting disabled people’s labour-market participation: supervisors and co-workers need to be engaged and enabled to be engaged as well.

4) Challenges that employers experience do not automatically translate into public support needs. Partly, because employers do not consider the public support agencies as capable to support them; partly also, because not all employers welcome public interference with what they consider ‘internal’ personnel issues.

Summarizing, employers differ in the challenges they experience as well as in the degree they consider rethinking organizational policies and practices as part of the process of becoming more inclusive. For policy makers and support providers, recognizing this diversity is crucial. First of all, because whereas some employers need to be motivated and stimulated to become engaged, for others the core issue is to transfer motivation into actual inclusive actions. Secondly, because being inclusive means different things for different employers. And although these notions of inclusiveness are not set in stone, being aware of them as well being responsive to the various support needs they result in can be considered vital in engaging employers successfully.

About the author

Rik Van Berkel is Associate Professor at Utrecht University.


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