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About employment of people with special needs and one employer’s success story

8:16:00 PM

Special needs of an employee have not entailed a single employment injury nor termination of contract

Today it is difficult for a person with special needs to equally compete on the job market. Even though for years already, employers have been offered trainings connected with hiring people who have disabilities. However, employment of people with special needs is still a topic that needs promoting. On the other hand, there are companies that lead a positive example. One of them is a limited company “ISS Eesti” (ISS Estonia) that offers real estate maintenance services.

ISS Estonia has broken free from the walls of prejudice and they can now rightly be called a “Good Company”. During the last years, they have consistently developed awareness about the working efficiency of people with special needs and about the contrasts that need to be kept in mind while hiring them. Head of Human Resources of ISS Baltics, Helo Tamme, told Helpific about the work that has been done in their company to promote the employment of people with special needs.

Helo Tamme: "Our wish is to ensure the person gets the most suitable work and work environment possible."

How many people with special needs work in ISS?

HT: ISS is a company providing real estate maintenance services, where most people work in cleaning services. We provide services on our clients’ sites and work is mainly divided into internal and external work. We have about 250 people with decreased working ability. We haven’t done any surveys about age groups, also I am not able to say how many people with one or another diagnosis we have.

How is hiring a person with special needs different from the usual hiring process?

HT: We hold an individual conversation with every person to find out what we have to take into consideration so that at the end of the day everyone would be satisfied – both the client and the worker. Some people write down their special needs in their CV so that we, as an employer, could take it into consideration. As we have done a lot of publicity work, people are not afraid to let us know about their special needs. In some cases, we have been contacted by the relatives of the prospective employees who inform us about the applicant’s disability.

People are generally very straightforward and talk about their problems. They are aware of our company’s specialty and principally they know where they are applying for work. We also have cooperation with the Unemployment Office, in the context of which their event organizer will contact and inform us about a certain client’s special needs. We in turn let them know if we currently have respective work to offer the certain person. Our wish is to ensure the person gets the most suitable work and work environment possible – if we forced the person to go to an environment obviously not suitable for him/her, we would already create a problem in advance and we could be sure that the person would stay there for long.

People coming through Unemployment Office also have a possibility to do trial days. This is very important for people with decreased working capacity as the person himself could want to work, but it might not be executable for him. Either the work pace is too fast or some other unsuitable factors might appear. In that case we can offer some other site right away. People might also have some idle fears that either will get confirmation or rebuttal during the trial days. On our form to start work we have a section where a person himself can write down if he has been designated unable to work.

We consider every person’s specialty – during the conversation we map the necessary information, according to which we can choose the site suitable for the person. We will send him to a place where there is no danger to him. As we are a big company with a lot of clients, we can afford that. Paradoxically the company’s size enables us flexibility.

What kind of a worker is a person with special needs?

HT: We have people who like simple routine work. Their training might take a bit longer than of people without special needs, but in the end they are very sturdy, they manage their work well and they are quickly embraced in the company. Our clients are different and the required pace of work differs – in some places it is very fast, in another a bit calmer.

We have seldom had complaints from clients about people with decreased working ability. When they have occurred, it has mainly been about insufficient working speed. In that case we have found another site for the worker, where the load of work matches more with his specialties.

We have been asked about our employees’ loyalty. A study showed that the turnover of people with decreased working ability is 20 percentage points smaller than in the case of common employees. Therefore it can be stated that while hiring people with special needs, we save expenses. Lately we also analyzed the topic of employment injuries and it turned out that we have not had any employment injuries with people who have special needs. Also no contract has been terminated due to a mental- or behavioral disorder.

How do you train your employees to work with people with decreased working ability?

HT: We consciously started to deal with hiring people with decreased working ability in 2012. Training of human resource officers and managers came to mind a bit later, when different questions arose. For example, how to act with different disabilities, how to react in certain cases etc. At that time there was no one to learn from nor no one to ask help from. The first training for our human resource officers and managers took place in 2013 in the Unemployment Office.

Today it is much easier for employers: The Unemployment Office has programs addressed to work ability reform, which specifically deal with companies’ needs for consultations and trainings. This is very good for companies who are just starting to deal with this matter.

Our human resource officers participate in different trainings, where they learn to better notice a disability or special need. For example at the end of April, one recruiter will participate in a two-day training “Person with a mental disorder – what would be useful to an employer to know”. Training helps to prevent possible problems or to deal with them at the right time.

Who are your partners?

HT: Our main partners are the Unemployment Office, Tallinn Mental Health Center, Astangu Vocation Rehabilitation Center, NGO Abikäsi (Helping Hand), Tugiliisu - Support Association for People with Special Needs, and Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. Through them, we have spread our messages to raise awareness related to employment of people with disabilities. Through the Unemployment Office, we have organized briefings for other employers.

What could the State do to help entrepreneurs and to promote the employment of people with special needs?

HT: Today the process has been made relatively favorable for employers. People with special needs mainly work for us part time, as was suggested by the Mental Health Center. This does not entail additional taxes for us, because for part-time workers, whose salary is less than the minimum 390 euros, which is the basis for social tax, Government pays the social tax.

A well-functioning support person system is lacking. In some cases, a support person would be needed for even a month to shape out the work routine for youngsters with special needs and for encouragement. This is because the youngster’s parents are working and are not able to come to work with him.

The Work Ability Reform obligates the person to be active on the job market, but people with special needs could easily be intimidated by a couple of refusals. State help would be needed to create support networks, through which to simplify the finding of these companies that are ready to hire people with special needs. A diversity label is being created for companies, whose purpose is to encourage people with special needs to apply for work in a company carrying the label.

We have been able to have a say in the Work Ability Reform and I can say that problems arise from insufficient awareness. The starting of the reform depends mainly on employers because they need to have the readiness. Fears and rumours need to be demolished which the Unemployment Office is efficiently working on by offering different consultations and trainings. More and more possibilities will be seen instead of restrictions. Also Astangu Vocation Rehabilitation Center holds very good, one-day trainings where different disabilities are introduced. Unfortunately, there has only been a slight interest in these and due to lack of resources, it is not possible to organize them in a sufficient frequency.

Why are employers afraid of people with special needs?

HT: The main reasons are rumours and fears, sometimes also negative experiences. When dealing with people who have special needs, different aspects need to be considered. One is that they are often slower in working.

Companies often state that due to the nature of their work, they are not able to hire people with decreased working ability. It is always wise to listen to experts’ recommendations and go to more trainings – raising awareness always helps. There are specialists in the Astangu Vocational Rehabilitation Center and Unemployment Office who can explain how to change the working environment to be more suitable for hiring people with special needs. The Unemployment Office often compensates the expenses made for adjusting the work environment to be up to 100 per cent. The opinion that hiring people with special needs brings by excessive expenses, might not be true as ISS experience shows.

Today, we don’t need to think whether our managers are able to communicate properly with people who have special needs. We don’t think if this certain person is suitable for a certain site. Instead, we think in a human-centered way and evaluate whether one or another site will be suitable for a certain person. Of course, the changes will not take place overnight – fears will not vanish as quickly as we want them to, it is a longer process. It seems like people are becoming more tolerant, a nice example of it are the shops. We have chain shops where it is very common to known how to deal with people who have special needs. It is encouraging to see that the young generation is very understanding about differences. I guess it is better to say that they don’t make a difference or sometimes won’t even notice that a person is different.

In conclusion I can say that positive experience-stories give courage and strength. We have not written down these stories in our company, they circle as oral folklore helping us to move forward.


Interviewed by Ene Kaju, Helpific volunteer
Edited by Katrin Suik
Translation: Liina Martinson

© Helpific

Astangu Vocational Rehabilitation Center developing positive attitude disability English Helpific ISS mental health disorder special need Tallinn Mental Health Center Work ability reform

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