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New skills for new jobs: opportunities for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the job market
By: James Thurston, Director, International Accessibility Policy
20 July 2010

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The Europe 2020 strategy calls for economic growth based on a smart, sustainable and inclusive model that targets an overall employment rate of 75% and a reduction of poverty by 20 Million among other priorities.

We can meet those targets by creating a more inclusive labour market that fully leverages the untapped potential of all Europeans. In a recent International Data Corporation (IDC) study commissioned by Microsoft, European employers told us that ICT skills will be required for more and more jobs in the next five years – and not only for ICT professionals. Soon anyone looking for employment will need to be prepared with e-Skills, regardless of the job or industry sector. In fact, in five years, European employers expect more than 90% of jobs to require substantial ICT skills.

What are the implications of these trends for people with disabilities and for eInclusion and employment policy?

Can we really make greater progress towards broad digital inclusion without leveraging this critical relationship between employment, skills, and accessible technology?

Recently, Microsoft collaborated with ONCE, an NGO that supports the social Integration of people with disabilities, to convene a roundtable discussion of experts to consider these and other important questions. The roundtable was a high level, multi-stakeholder dialogue exploring how to promote greater employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The focus was on practical, technical and policy solutions. The workshop was structured to include the participation of representatives from across the entire labour market value chain, including employers, employees with disabilities, and Intermediaries or third parties that offer services between the two parties.

Members of Industry were well represented, including Microsoft, Repsol, British Telecom and Lloyd’s. Government participants were from the European Commission - Information Society and Media Directorate-General (eInclusion Unit) and the Employment and Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Directorate-General (Unit Integration of People with disabilities) of the European Commission. Finally, NGOs and user organizations included the European Disability Forum –EDF (EU), AGE Platform Europe (EU), ONCE (ES), Technosite (ES), Abilitynet (UK), Employers’ Forum on Disability- EFD (UK), and I2BC (ES) participated in the workshop.

After discussing important policy and socio-economic trends, these leading organizations jointly identified fundamental challenges and best practices to promote the employment of people with disabilities. Some of the key elements that emerged are:

  • The relevance of leadership and top-level management in creating enterprise strategies for the employability of people with disabilities.

  • The critical role of accessibility and technology issues during each stage of the employment process, including when announcing vacancies, when recruiting candidates, and while integrating new employees into the workplace.

  • The importance of partnerships and mentorship of experts and intermediary organizations representing people with disabilities.

  • The challenge of acquiring initial work experience. It is common to many graduates and is a much bigger obstacle for people with disabilities who often have even greater difficulty finding a first job. Providing internships and working experience as part of curricula is one solution.

  • The need to address cost barriers to providing accessible work environments and tools, including technology.

  • The necessity to address employability issues as an economic and competitive issue and not simply a social responsibility one.

The participants at the workshop recognized the unique role that government can play in increasing the employment rates of people with disabilities. Some specific recommendations for the government include

  • Provide data and analysis for a comprehensive picture that enables a better understanding of the labour market for people with disabilities.

  • Take the lead in raising awareness across industry, but also throughout the public sector. The government’s first step should be to become an exemplary employer.

  • Create incentives to support employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

  • Design a policy framework that promotes the employability of people with disabilities and that includes both broad policy actions related to disability, ICT and skills along with more focused and targeted actions.

This dialogue succeeded in showcasing different perspectives on the various employment issues and defining roles and responsibilities for all the stakeholders involved. The result is the beginnings of a business case for increasing the employability of people with disabilities in a competitive and rapidly changing labour market.

As an initial follow-up to the roundtable discussion, Microsoft has committed to several key next steps:

  • To produce a Summary Report capturing the main content and agreements reached during the roundtable discussion. You can find that report here.

  • To develop a suite of ICT training tools and resources for employers who would like to strengthen their commitment to accessibility in the workplace. The development is being done in partnership with Abilitynet, ONCE, Lloyds Bank and others.

  • To produce a Policy White Paper on the topic of accessibility and employment that will include input from this roundtable discussion and other sources and partners.

  • To consider additional opportunities for creating discussion and sharing among stakeholders to identify and support collaborative initiatives among a wide range of relevant European and international actors.

To find out more about Microsoft’s commitment to accessible technology please consult: http://www.microsoft.com/ENABLE/

  • The relevance of leadership and top-level management in creating enterprise strategies for the employability of people with disabilities.

  • The critical role of accessibility and technology issues during each stage of the employment process, including when announcing vacancies, when recruiting candidates, and while integrating new employees into the workplace.

  • The importance of partnerships and mentorship of experts and intermediary organizations representing people with disabilities.

  • The challenge of acquiring initial work experience. It is common to many graduates and is a much bigger obstacle for people with disabilities who often have even greater difficulty finding a first job. Providing internships and working experience as part of curricula is one solution.

  • The need to address cost barriers to providing accessible work environments and tools, including technology.

  • The necessity to address employability issues as an economic and competitive issue and not simply a social responsibility one.