An event in Barnstaple has revealed that North Devon employers are ignoring a pool of hidden talent on their doorstep.
Untapped Talent was organised by Devon County Council and North Devon+ at a North Devon Manufacturers Association breakfast to encourage more employers to tap into talent offered by individuals with learning difficulties.
Adrienne Russell, employment lead for Devon County Council, welcomed employers and Phil Scotcher, chairman of NDMA and general manager of TDK-Lambada UK, introduced the speakers. First, Danielle Inwood from the National Autistic Society revealed that just 15% of individuals with autism in the UK are in full-time paid employment, even though they often offer above-average skills including problem solving, attention to detail and high levels of concentration.
Danielle explained that the traditional recruiting process excludes many of these candidates who are not able to handle over complicated job adverts and application forms or do not perform well in interviews.
The National Autistic Society is currently developing an initiative for North Devon employers at Kingsley House in Bideford.
Next, Martin Mogford, operations director of SWM, discussed how employing individuals with disabilities had benefitted the company's bottom line. 15-20% of the SWM workforce has a disability and Martin urged employers to "think about skills and strengths rather than disabilities".
Since launching its RE:WORK initiative, SWM has enabled 10 people with disabilities to progress to paid employment. He also said there was a fantastic range of support available locally from organisations such as Pluss. Addressing health and safety issues, Jon Dunkley of Toller Beattie solicitors suggested there was no higher risk employing an individual with learning difficulties than with any other person and that issues can be dealt with by employers according to their normal procedures. He urged employers to look at the positive aspects and embrace the opportunities.
Gail Richards, engaging the youth workforce lead at North Devon Healthcare Trust, gave an account of its Project SEARCH which provides a one-year internship giving 18 to 24-year old students with learning disabilities the chance to try a wide variety of job roles.
Tony Potter, chief executive of Calvert Trust, closed the event, remarking that its longest-serving employee with 18 years' service has learning difficulties and that they couldn’t ask for a better and more conscientious member of staff. Employers looking to get involved in this initiative can find details at northdevonplus.com