Unique workforce “worth gold” says CEO

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HR professionals across New Zealand are missing out on an incredibly valuable and relatively untapped pool of talent – that’s the message from one Kiwi CEO who overseas one of the country’s most unique workforces.

“There is a whole group of people that employers are overlooking,” says Auckland-based Martin Wylie, who heads up Altus Enterprises in Papatoetoe.

Specialists in contract packaging, labelling and assembling, the organization has a front-line workforce made up exclusively of people with disabilities.

“It’s a talent pool which, in the main, is susceptible to high unemployment levels but with the right structures put around them, they can make a huge contribution,” says Wylie.

Recent data from Statistics New Zealand revealed that the unemployment rate for Kiwis with an intellectual impairment sat at 17 per cent – a full 12 per cent higher than the national average.

Those with learning, speaking, and remembering impairments had an unemployment rate of 14-15 per cent while mobility and hearing impairments had a rate of 7 per cent.

“I think it’s largely preconceptions or misunderstanding about what time or expense might be involved in making accommodations to meet the needs of that individual,” said Wylie, when asked why other employers may be reluctant to employ someone with a disability.

“In reality, it’s normally quite small and can be relatively easily accommodated,” he continued. “They think it’s going to be difficult, complex and expensive to do it so it’s just easier, in their mind, to go with a more conventional workforce.”

But just giving someone a chance, said Wylie, could lead to a whole host of benefits for both employers and their prospective employee.

“You tend to get an employee that is far more loyal and motivated to stay in the job,” he says, adding that workers who are so committed are both extremely rare and valuable.

“Even if you’re not driven by a social conscience, which frankly I think we are, just watching those individuals blossom when they’re given the opportunity to work is worth gold,” he added.

When considering hiring someone with a mental disability, Wylie urged employers to look past traditional recruitment steps such and CVs and interviews.

“Sometimes they just need a trial, they need someone who gives them a shot to see just exactly what they can do,” he told HRM.

“If more employers were prepared to give disabled people a trial they might be surprised at just what these people are capable of doing and what a broader range of benefits they bring to the workplace,” he continued.

“The mechanisms are all there under the labour laws to allow somebody to come in and have a work trial for a few weeks and I think it would be great if more employers could do that.”

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