Before becoming an MP I worked for a large advertising agency.
One of the roles I held there was Head of Graduate Recruitment.
So, I know something about both the challenge of identifying the right talent.
And just how rewarding it can be when you find the right person for the job.
Knowing they will be really happy in their new role and that you’ve helped an employer find somebody who’s a good fit for their company must be very satisfying.
I see something similar in my line of work, when I go out to visit disability employment specialists and meet disabled people who have been helped into work.
The impact on an individual of having the right job can be truly life-changing.
Not just in terms of income, but think about all the other positive things we get from work, friendships, the satisfaction of a job well done, improved confidence and a sense of worth.
Research has also shown that work can be good for people’s health and well-being.
But too many disabled people are shut out from all of the good things that being in work can bring because they can’t get past the recruitment processes.
Disabled people want to work, but less than half of working age disabled people are employed.
The employment rate for disabled people is 46 per cent compared to a national employment rate of 70 per cent.
This unused talent could be costing the economy up to £13 billion a year.
And unfortunately all too often disabled people are failing to get jobs not because they can’t work or don’t want to work but because existing recruitment processes mean they don’t get past the first hurdle.
This has to change.
Not just because it’s a good thing for disabled people, and certainly not because it’s a ”nice” thing to do.
This has to change because shutting disabled people out in this way is detrimental to the economy and detrimental to business.
Those who fail to consider the seven million disabled people, including three million already in employment, as part of the UK’s potential talent pool are ruling out up to one-sixth of the UK’s potential workforce without real reason.
This is an enormous disservice to the many very capable, talented disabled people who want to work.
But it is also an enormous disservice to employers as it could so easily mean that actually the perfect person for their job is overlooked.
The reality is that really small changes to recruitment processes can make the difference between being able to tap into this talent pool and not.
For example, for lots of jobs now the first stage is an online application form, but too often these cannot be accessed by blind people.
Or we ask disabled people to attend assessment centres which aren’t wheelchair accessible.
Or we have really complex application processes for roles that are actually quite straightforward and could be carried out by a learning disabled person.
It doesn’t take very much to put these things right.
I know later this evening you’ll hear the results of the first Recruitment Industry Initiative survey.
I don’t want to spoil the unveiling.
But I think it will be no great surprise to learn that often employers and recruiters simply don’t realise the processes they use are having this affect.
I think the problem here is two-fold, a lack of understanding of the way disabled people are affected by some recruitment processes and a lack of knowledge about where to go for support.
But help is available.
Clearkit is one example and I think the only resource that includes recruitment processes as well as in work support.
But there are others. Jobcentre Plus advisers can also help employers to think more positively about disabled people.
And for those employers who work with Jobcentre Plus and make a commitment to employ and develop disabled staff we award the “Two Ticks” symbol.
This is a professional accreditation covering interview best practice and in work support for disabled people. It recognises those employers who are prepared to give disabled people a chance based on their talents.
And that is all anyone needs and deserves.
Two Ticks and Clearkit provide a complementary package of advice and support for employers recruiting and employing disabled people.
In Government we have been looking at the services we provide to help disabled people be able to get the most of employment opportunities.
Last December, I asked Liz Sayce, the Chief Executive of Radar, a national organisation run by disabled people, to carry out an independent review of disability employment services.
As an aside, one of the interesting aspects of Liz’s research was just how much the work aspirations of disabled people have changed.
Again and again disabled people - especially young disabled people - said they wanted the same choice of jobs as everyone else - in every sector.
And why shouldn’t disabled people have that choice?
Liz also looked at the in-work support available to disabled people and their employers.
She found one scheme in particular, Access to Work, is highly valued by both disabled people and employers.
Access to Work provides bespoke support for disabled people in mainstream jobs and is tailored to the needs of both disabled people and their employers.
We spent nearly £98 million on Access to Work in 2009/10, helping more than 37,000 disabled people to get or keep employment.
Liz has recommended some small changes to the Access to Work scheme to make it even more effective. For example, by widening access to information and peer support.
She has also suggested a fundamental change to the way support is provided, linking it to the individual so support can go with them from job to job.
Young disabled people, like young non-disabled people no longer expect a job for life so I think it’s sensible to design support that moves jobs with the individual instead of starting a brand new assessment at the start of each new role.
I’m telling you about this because understanding more about the support available might help you to support more employers to hire more disabled people.
Government obviously has an interest in getting more disabled people into work. More working people means less is paid out in benefits and we recoup more in tax and national insurance. In effect it’s good for our bottom line.
But it’s also good for employers, providing access to a wider talent pool, finding a valuable member of staff and enhancing their reputation as a “good employer” enabling them to attract more high quality candidates.
And this means it must be good for your business in terms of both the quality and diversity of the candidates you put forward.
This evening’s event is partly to ask you to think about the processes you use and the processes your clients use to recruit and just ask yourself are they disability friendly?
And if they aren’t what are you missing?
But it’s also about showing you the kind of support on offer and where you can go to ask questions.
I know so much of this is about information. Sometimes employers don’t know what to do for the best. So too often don’t do anything at all.
If there’s one thing I have learned in my time as Minister for Disabled People, it is that the best way to find out what disabled people need and want, is to ask disabled people themselves.
So, I’m delighted you’ll be hearing from Dan Biddle a little later, we’ve met a number of times now and he has some really interesting things to say about the importance of mainstream employment.
I’d also urge you to take a look at the free part of the Clearkit website which has some useful hints and tips for making recruitment processes disability friendly.
There is a real change of attitudes both of and to disabled people and employment.
Being in work is something the vast majority both expect and aspire to.
Employers, recruiters and yes sometimes still Government need to be much more alert to this and make sure disabled people have the same opportunities as non-disabled people.
Not because it’s a nice thing to do, or even the right thing to do but because it’s the smart thing to do.