Hiring people with disability is naturally an important element of diversity, as businesses should be representing the people they serve. But more than that, they can bring unique perspectives and skills to the workforce.
However, research from the Department of Social Services has found that while the majority of Australian employers across food service, retail and accommodation are open to hiring people with disability (78 per cent), a much lower percentage (42 per cent) believed their business was equipped to do so.
JobAccess is warning retailers in particular, that they are missing out on an untapped pool of talent by overlooking candidates with disability.
One retailer that is passionate about hiring people with disability is Australian grocery chain, Harris Farm Markets.
Tristan Harris, Harris Farm Markets (HFM) co-CEO, says it started around 20 years ago when his parents were running the company. They decided to hire Tristan’s cousin Sarah, who lives with disability.
“They quickly realised that her employment had an amazingly positive impact on so many people,” Tristan says.
“Not only did it give Sarah the opportunity to work and be part of the community, Sarah’s family were thrilled and the customers were always so happy to see Sarah.”
Tristan says this is what led them to actively work towards their goal of having at least one person with disability in each HFM store.
“Employing people with a disability in our business helps to increase diversity in the workplace, promote social awareness, enhance teamwork and boost morale.”
On the ground
Brothers Francis and Taione Halliday, who both work in Harris Farm Markets in Sydney, are prime examples of why the approach works so well.
While both brothers have limited communication, they have a unique way of interacting with customers and are highly praised by their managers for offering top quality customer service.
Mujeeb Alami, HFM Bondi Westfield store’s senior manager, has worked with both Francis and Taione over the years.
He describes the brothers as “lovely people”, “very punctual and systematic” who really want to be social with the customer.
“They follow instructions really well and are always happy to learn new things,” Mujeeb says.
He says there’s a good feeling in the store when they are working there. “The customers love them,” he says.
Mujeeb believes having people with disability employed at the store also makes it a better environment for customers with disability, and feels he has learned a lot about customers service from them both.
Uncovering the facts
Daniel Valiente, general manager at JobAccess, a service which provides workplace and employment information for people with disability and employers, says many employers could be unaware that they are already hiring someone with disability because 90 per cent of disabilities are invisible.
He believes it’s important that people change their perceptions of disability.
“More than 53 per cent of people with disabilities in the workforce are in managerial positions; they are doing this amazing amount of work, we just don’t know about it,” Daniel says.
“First of all because people become very good at hiding it because it’s got such a negative connotation, but also because we’ve got this predisposition to think that people with disabilities are only of a certain type when they’re not, they’re incredibly diverse.”
“The fact is we’re all different … Disability is just part of the human diversity experience. I really like the fact that some Aboriginal cultures just don’t recognise the word disability,
simply because we’re all meant to be different, which I think is just so great.”
The department’s research also found that 44 per cent of employers were worried about integrating people with disabilities into the workforce and 42 per cent saw employing a person with disability as “a step into the unknown”.
Daniel says every single hire comes with risk and employing a person with disability is no different. Employers just need to be prepared.
Get the tools
The good news for employers is there are a range of services available offering support and information around hiring people with disability.
“They can go to the local disability employment services; we’ve got a call centre, they can call us at any time and they can talk to a registered professional, whether it’s an occupational therapist or psychologist, and talk through any issue around disability employment,” says Daniel.
The Department of Social Services has created an online resource to guide employers through the entire process of employing people with disability. The Employer Toolkit features videos, downloadable resources and case studies with advice on everything from interviewing job seekers with disability to making adjustments in the workplace.
“The message is you don’t have to do it on your own. The first couple of times you employ people with disabilities it may feel overwhelming but the reality is that once you start working with them you will focus on the things that they can do, not the things that they cannot do.”
This article first appeared in the April edition of Inside FMCG magazine. For more in-depth features, interviews and analysis, you can subscribe to the quarterly magazine here.