Work to be done!

Who are the UK's super-workers and why are our employers missing out?

Did you know that the UK has a group of 'super-workers' who bring more to an employer than the average member of staff?

I have met several super-workers. They are impressive. But they are also hard to find; part of a group you will not often hear about. But we should hear about them because they have qualities which the UK's workforce desperately needs.

These super-workers are:

  • hardworking and go the extra mile
  • determined
  • loyal
  • keen to learn
  • innovative
  • flexible
  • empathetic
  • brilliant communicators
  • great problem-solvers
  • ready to do what it takes to get and keep paid work.
But sorry, bad luck, because you probably won't get to meet them.

Why? Not because this is an exclusive or secretive group. It's because, ironically, these outstanding individuals are rarely able to get work. And, even more worryingly, they can find it hard to even undertake the courses they need to prepare themselves for work.

Here are some of them:

  • a science graduate with a post-graduate professional qualification who had no paid work until the age of 37
  • a qualified, experienced teacher who had a job offer rescinded when the employer discovered she was in this group
  • a graduate undertaking professional training who was, without ceremony, told to leave the course she had already half-completed
  • a mature adult whose schooling denied him access to basic literacy skills, who with super-human determination has held full-time paid work for two decades
  • an experienced health professional who remains at entry level after 5 years on the job, overtaken by every other colleague who is not in this group.
  • a highly skilled, experienced professional who, in her 30s, is trying to develop her own business while working for the minimum wage in a short-term role.
Why is this happening? Because these super-workers are deaf or hard of hearing.

Why does deafness create such barriers for this group? Because, I think, employers cannot project themselves into being deaf and may assume:

  • deaf people cannot communicate
  • they can't use the phone

  • employing deaf people will create hassle and be expensive.
While these assumptions are understandable, none are true.

Deaf people have to communicate well to even survive in a predominantly hearing world. They will make a huge effort to communicate with you, so you only have to show willing. Also they are likely to promote stronger communication among your colleagues – something which happened when I led various teams

(of mostly hearing people) and about which I hear regularly. Colleagues are intrigued by lipreading and signing and quickly learn to broaden their own skills, which can have knock-on positive impact on the way they deal with others, including customers.

With social media, texting and e-communication, preferring not to make voice phone calls should not prove a barrier in 99% of jobs. And with appropriate support, D/deaf people can make calls anyway.

The government's Access to Work scheme, dubbed 'the best kept secret' by the Federation of Small Businesses, offers reimbursement of necessary additional costs for deaf or disabled staff[1]. The support should be appropriate to the job the person does and tailored to the individual. So no employer should be financially disadvantaged by employing someone who is D/deaf or disabled. This support is also available for job interviews.

But don't take my word for it. None other than Dame Mary Perkins, Specsavers' founding Director, raised the same issue in her keynote speech at the Everywoman Awards in December 2013. She called on the successful businesswomen at the event to wake up to the talent available, and currently mostly wasted in the UK. Thank you Mary!
So why is this happening at a time when UK employers say they are crying out for the right staff? I think we have a vicious circle. Because so few D/deaf people work in mainstream jobs, deafness feels alien and this lack of ordinariness perpetuates fear and the myths above. We need more employers to see the benefits this group brings and understand how they vastly outweigh the minor adaptations needed. Then we need the deaf super-workers to be bolder and more confident in pursuing their dreams and goals.

Visit the Communication Support page

[1] Since 2006 this has excluded staff employed at central government departments. These departments are now required to provide their own disability support.


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