Embrace diversity to fill those skills gaps

There’s a government-sponsored advertisement running on a London radio station right now (www.drc-gb.org), warning recruiters not to disregard people with disabilities simply because their health profile doesn’t tick every box in a job specification.

John F Kennedy, it points out, suffered a bad back but ended up as US president, while Winston Churchill suffered depression, and look at what he achieved.

About 600,000 people suffering with disabilities – from epilepsy to dyslexia – are currently employed in small and medium-sized enterprises in this country. Yet many more are unable to get jobs. Not necessarily because they lack the skills, but because managers charged with recruitment are unable to think laterally about practically altering the job to accommodate them.

If UK plc is going to make any meaningful moves to plug skills gaps, it will have to address issues like these, and fast.

Witness a new Learning and Skills Council study, which found there are about 1.5 million employees whose bosses say are not fully proficient in their current jobs. This equates to 8% of the UK’s total workforce.

Training alone is not going to solve this problem.

Performance management is a key element in tackling the issue, along with vastly improved line management. But we also need to go right back to the recruitment process.

Old-fashioned managers looking for easy, quick-fix solutions to a fill a job – for instance, hiring people they know, dismissing out-of-hand disabled or older people, failing to give the young and inexperienced a chance to prove themselves, or ignoring applicants from abroad – need to be dealt with. Too many of these line manager dinosaurs occupy key recruiter positions.

HR, along with leaders of organisations and recruitment agencies, need to work together to right these wrongs. They need to drag backward-thinking line managers into the 21st century. And they need to be proactive in looking to recruit and train groups of people who have been traditionally sidelined.

Chancellor Gordon Brown has just provided some good tax incentives in his 2005 Budget to enable organisations to do just that.

By Penny Wilson, acting editor

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