Plugging the skills gap – the case for diversity

By Paul Avis, Marketing Director at Canada Life Group Insurance

The UK is currently faced with a skills shortage. According to a recent Government Employer Skills Survey,[1]almost a quarter of all UK vacancies are considered skills-shortage vacancies, meaning they are difficult to fill because the organisation cannot find applicants with the appropriate skills, qualifications or experience.

To overcome this chronic problem,employers should look towards building a diverse workforce. This ensures they fulfil their obligations under the Equality Act 2010, but also ensures a wealth of skills and experience remains in the workplace.

In the case of disabled employees, many are discounted as potential staff– but they will have vital skills and experience that employers should tap into.

The Department of Health and Department of Work and Pensions green paper –which reiterated the Government’s commitment to halving the disability employment gap – heralds a new era where employers can expect to have additional obligations for retaining disabled staff. This is a vital development on the Government’s journey to reducing the amount of people living on State disability benefits.

Furthermore, a report by De Paul University in the US, studying the costs and benefits of workers with disabilities found them to have low absence rates,long tenures and to be ‘loyal, reliable and hardworking’.[2]

Misconception about disabled employees remain prevalent

If disabled employees are such excellent additions to the workplace, why aren’t employers hiring or retaining people with disabilities?

Unfortunately, misconceptions are still prevalent among many employers.One of the biggest myths is that it’s too expensive to employ a disabled person because of the adjustments that need to be made to the workplace.

Myths such as these must be debunked: reasonable adjustments can generally be made at little or no cost to the employer. Many adjustments will cost absolutely nothing to implement, such as allowing for flexible working,changes to the dress code or allowing someone to sit instead of stand (or vice versa). According to The Disability Rights Commission, the average cost of adjustments is just £75.

When a current member of staff is newly disabled, policies like Group Income Protection (GIP) can offer real benefits, providing employers and their employees with support above and beyond what Government provides.

In addition to the core financial benefit, additional support services can help employees back into the workplace as soon is medically appropriate,offering them support in the form of early intervention and vocational rehabilitation.

The longer an absence continues, the harder it becomes to return an employee to the workplace, so these services help ensure a valuable employee is not needlessly lost from the workplace and can save up to £30,000 in additional costs to replace them.[3]

The hidden value of older workers

Older workers are also a crucial part of a diverse workforce and can be overlooked. A recent survey of 55 to 64 year olds suggests almost two thirds(63%) of this age group have felt discriminated against by a prospective employer because of their age.[4] But older employees can benefit the workplace as a whole – they come with a host of skills and experience which employers and younger employees can benefit from.

Our recent research shows that 72% of employees intend to work beyond the age of 65, [5] with the concept of a ‘traditional retirement age’ fast becoming a thing of the past.Meanwhile, nearly two in five employees say they enjoy their job and want to work as long as possible: employers should capitalise on this willingness and consider hiring or up-skilling older workers.

However, older employees sometimes need support to be able to continue working. Flexible working becomes more important as staff age, as well as comprehensive benefits packages which cover the increased likelihood of suffering a serious illness or injury.

Ultimately, attitudes towards disabled and older employees must change. Greater employment opportunities for these groups will not only improve workplace diversity, but are also needed to help plug the growing skills gap.


[1] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/746493/ESS_2017_UK_Report_Controlled_v06.00.pdf

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/judyowen/2012/05/12/a-cost-benefit-analysis-of-disability-in-the-workplace/#3a26f8a93501

[3] Thecost of brain drain

[4] https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/age-discrimination-two-thirds-older-workers-feel-discriminated/

[5] Canada Life Ageing Workforce research, Q2 2018

Author: editorialassistant

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