Portsmouth employers committed to think more broadly and hire from a wider pool of talent at the Disability Confident conference organised by Pluss, Portsmouth City Council and Job Centre Plus recently.
Over 100 attendees at the event heard how other local business owners had benefitted from signing up to be Disability Confident employers and from hiring employees referred to them under the Department for Work and Pensions' Work and Health programme. The scheme, run locally by the council, helps people living with mental or physical disabilities and the long term unemployed to get back into work.
Sophie Haschka, age 23, in a moving and inspiring speech at the event, told how her severe anxiety and depression had stopped her from getting out of the house and finding work. Thanks to the information, advice and guidance and CV writing support she has received from the council's Employment, Learning and Skills team, she is now working in a call centre for Clarity, a charitable social enterprise which employs, trains and supports people with disabilities to create high-quality toiletries, soap and cleaning products. Sophie said: "Before, I couldn't even face calling my Mum on the phone, so if you'd have told me six months ago that I'd be calling people up for a job, I'd probably have politely laughed in your face. It feels amazing to be in work, I realise I can bring something to the team and I have a purpose again!"
Joint winners of the Portsmouth Employer of the Year Award 2019 were Amberley Security and Lily & Lime, both Disability Confident employers.
Achiever of the Year 2019 was Michael Billcliffe, who came to Amberley Security after receiving support via the Solent Jobs Programme run by Portsmouth City Council.
Scott Andrews, Company Director of Amberley Security, was contacted by the Solent Jobs Programme and asked if he would consider taking on a new employee at a time when he did not have the funds to hire anyone. The team explained that it was a funded placement and if after six months he was unable to take anyone on permanently, it would not be an issue as it would help with the employee's work experience. Scott said: "We just clicked and Michael's speech impediment lessened throughout the interview. He is now one of three valuable employees we've hired in this way which now allows me time to get on with more strategic work. I would urge all employers to give disadvantaged people a chance to shine and they will shine for you."
Michael said: "I had been ill for quite a while but wanted to get back into work and had always wanted train as a locksmith ever since I was a kid. I got help with applying for jobs and was introduced to the team at Amberley Locks. It's been a life changer for me. I love my job. It's like I've been doing it all my life."
Penny Mordaunt, MP for Portsmouth North, presenting awards at the event, said: "I congratulate all the winners today and I'm delighted to see so many people here who are interested in becoming Disability Confident. This is all about increasing opportunities for disabled people and for employers and I want to see all employers challenging the misconceptions of the past and realising the many benefits disabled people can bring to the workplace. I urge employers everywhere to become disability confident and make the most of this untapped pool of talent.”
Leader of Portsmouth City Council, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said: "I would urge more Portsmouth employers to come forward and find out more about becoming Disability Confident. This is your chance to offer local people an opportunity to get into work and they will offer your business so much in return."