The primary labor market is not as easily accessible for persons with disabilities as it should be. And yet these potential employees are often well educated. Oftentimes however, lack of knowledge, experience and resulting insecurities are still barriers for companies. Still another barrier is the lack of compatibility between rehabilitation structures and company requirements. Education is essential.
In their recent assessment of Germany’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the United Nations criticized – among other things – the non-inclusive labor market. Strategies are needed to offer general labor market access to a large number of persons with disabilities. This is precisely the goal of the Wirtschaft inklusiv Initiative (English: The Inclusive Economy). It informs and consults companies on employing persons with disabilities. After all, lack of knowledge and experience are the main barriers to inclusive employment.
What should those approaches look like? Research in the past kept discovering that small and medium-sized businesses and companies in particular need more information on the subject of inclusion. "This might be information on technical issues, legal subjects and the existing support and assistance systems for instance," says project manager Manfred Otto-Albrecht. "And this is exactly the starting point for Wirtschaft inklusiv." The consulting project sees itself as stakeholders of the economy supporting the economy. It directly addresses companies and businesses, since this is exactly where jobs are being created or secured.
"We specifically target employers and focus on specific regions and small and medium-sized companies," says Otto-Albrecht. "We aim at winning over those companies in particular that have not met their employment obligation yet."
There tend to be three different reactions to this: some companies are rather skeptical about inclusion, because public discussions cause them to perceive this primarily as an education issue. "Smaller sized businesses often don’t understand what the 'big' topic of inclusion should have to do with their company," explains Otto-Albrecht. "In this case it is especially important to break the topic down to the needs of a small company and establish a concrete relationship with the daily routine of small tradesmen."
Then there are a number of companies that are already aware of the topic due to increasing public interest. However, they lack information, ideas, suggestions, great examples and competent partners to initiate the first steps in their own companies. "Here we can provide key ideas based on our expertise, one-on-one consultations and events as well as an experience exchange between companies at our round tables."
And then there are those companies that already had some great experiences with employees with disabilities. In this case, Wirtschaft inklusiv primarily aims at designing intercompany processes and procedures irrespective of individual cases to create a certain level of sustainability.
"Overall, more and more of our counselors notice open doors in companies. The willingness to implement inclusion exists in many cases, but an adequate navigation system is often still missing," notes Otto-Albrecht. "For our services to be accepted, one crucial point is that we approach the companies as partners from an employer’s point of view and for employers to perceive us as 'their' consultants."
The project initiator is the German Federal Association for Outpatient Vocational Rehabilitation (German: Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft ambulante berufliche Rehabilitation, BAG abR e.V.), a group of economic institutions that share broad and extensive experience in the area of outpatient vocational rehabilitation. Its members, the various German Institutes on Education and the Economy and the Academy for Economic Development control the project in eight German states. Each German state has counseling teams or inclusion managers, who assist small and medium-sized companies in employing persons with severe disabilities and primarily address human resources managers.
They work closely with the respective employer associations. "This ensures that the work of our project is actually geared towards the needs and means of companies," Otto-Albrecht points out.
These goal-oriented consulting services ensure that companies and businesses benefit from better technical and legal expertise. They are able to better and more effectively utilize existing subsidies and assistance services, are better linked with benefit structures and learn from other companies how things can work. "This gives them a sense of security and imparts inclusion skills – and therefore also an increased willingness to get involved," says Otto-Albrecht. "This also makes them more successful in protecting vulnerable jobs of experienced employees, in tapping into unused resources of the labor market and in searching for suitable apprentices and qualified employees." What’s more, it makes them more successful in increasing employee loyalty and more attractive to job applicants in the 'war for talent'. Otto-Albrecht is convinced, "this makes employers overall more competitive. That’s for sure."
Inclusion is important for society as a whole and public debates should focus even more on the different aspects and not just set its sights on school education.
The primary labor market in particular would benefit greatly from the skills and knowledge of persons with disabilities. "We need to make sure that fewer people are dependent on special systems. Before we pigeonhole people as 'can be included' and 'can’t be included', we should consistently ask for flexibility in our control systems," Otto-Albrecht points out.
He adds, "somebody once said 'work is not everything, but without work everything is nothing'. There is a lot of truth in that. This is a fairly inclusive statement and it applies to all human beings."