Special Report
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Recruiting for diversity in the Civil Service

Infrastructure, assistive technology and flexible hours facilitate those with disabilities

The Public Appointments Service is the centralised provider of recruitment, assessment and selection services for the Civil Service, which includes recruitment and related human resource advisory services to local authorities, the Health Service Executive, An Garda Síochána, other public bodies and also for State boards.

In 2016, Irish Census data showed that the employment rate of disabled people was about half of the rate for those without disabilities (36.5 per cent versus 72.8 per cent). Disabled people in Ireland continue to face significant gaps in employment, compared to people who don’t have a disability. Ireland comes fourth last out of 28 EU countries when it comes to the number of disabled people in employment.

A key element of inclusive workplaces is the reasonable accommodations, or support, provided to employees with disabilities to do their jobs. These accommodations can involve physically adapting the work premises or the equipment. For example, installing loop systems for the hard of hearing or wheelchair ramps, automatic doorways, accessible bathrooms, handrails and stairlifts for those with mobility challenges.

Increasingly, workplace reasonable accommodations are of a technical nature, such as adapted computers, speech-to-text software and speech communication devices. Remote working has necessitated increased reliance on technology for us all and assistive technology, in particular, for disabled people.

Inclusive environments

Other non-physical accommodations include offering flexible working times, providing training or other supports that might help; adjusting an employee’s workplace attendance hours or allowing them to work from home; or assigning an employee certain tasks and substituting others for equivalent duties in consultation with the employee.

The Public Appointments Service is a long-standing partner of Ahead, an independent non-profit organisation working to create inclusive environments in education and employment for people with disabilities. It has supported the recruitment process for Ahead’s Willing Able and Mentoring (WAM) programme for many years.

The WAM programme runs as a six-month internship (with placements in the public and private sector) that aims to promote access to the labour market for graduates with disabilities and to build the capacity of employers to integrate disability into the workplace.

Ahead’s analysis of placements during their WAM programme from 2012 to 2020 shows that in the early years of the WAM programme the most common type of disability was physical disability.

However, more recently there has been an increase across disabilities such as mental health, significant ongoing illness and autism.

The Public Appointments Service won a WAM Employer Networking and Leaders Award this year.

Oireachtas programme

“Covid-19 has given us a chance to find a hybrid working model that supports diversity and inclusion. We have an opportunity to harness the technology that we have all learned to use over last 18 months, to create inclusive workplaces, remote or in-person,” says Shirley Comerford, chief executive of the Public Appointments Service.

Another good example of a Civil Service programme aimed at supporting employees with disabilities in the workplace is the Oireachtas Work Learning programme (OWL).

The Oireachtas-led OWL programme, delivered in partnership with disability support agencies Kare and Walk, is an applied learning, development and socialisation programme for adults with an intellectual disability. OWL provides job carving (identifying tasks for the employee to do in conjunction with the employer) and on-the-job support for the employee from programme partners, Kare and Walk. Support staff from Kare and Walk work closely with the employers to address any concerns, advise on any supports required and help to prepare the employee for the transition into the new role. As the employee grows in confidence and skill, support gradually recedes.

Under the Comprehensive Strategy for People with Disabilities (2015-2024), the Government has committed to increasing the public service employment target for people with disabilities on an incremental basis from a minimum of 3 per cent to a minimum of 6 per cent by 2024; programmes like these and implementing the Public Appointments Service commitments in the equality, diversity and inclusion strategy in the areas of reasonable accommodations and candidate experience will help to deliver that commitment.