It’s that time of year when students become graduands, hire mortarboards and gowns for their degree ceremonies and whence after are known as ‘graduates’. Congratulations to one and all who graduated this summer. So what’s next?
Earning a degree is a genuine achievement and without putting too fine a point on it, doing so when you’ve got a disability to deal with, makes it an even more admirable accomplishment. The plaudits are all yours but that’s not the end of the story. In fact, as you’ll be all too aware, it’s just the end of chapter one, and from here things can become that little bit more complicated.
Without wishing to curtail your joy at graduating, you’ll realise that we currently live in age of austerity and cuts, when unemployment figures are still alarmingly high. Adding your disability into the mix, you may be left wondering if your chances of securing a decent job are realistic at all.
Competition for places
One of the traditional options open to graduates is to join a graduate recruitment scheme. These are tailor made ‘train on the job’ programmes that takes a raw recruit with a quantifiable ability – based on your degree classification and subject and turns them into an employee proper. Of course, certain sectors have been dented by the downturn, for example, when the financial sector collapsed so did lots of the graduate opportunities including those that had been angled towards ensuring a measure of diversity within employment. Although these have gradually grown in numbers again, they are no less competitive to get into.
Tab Ahmad, is the founder and Managing Director of EmployAbility, a not-for-profit organisation focusing specifically on advising disabled students and graduates from education into employment. She admits: “I really wasn’t sure how the economy was going to impact on a lot of organisations we work with, and how they recruit graduates or respond to diversity,” but adds, optimistically, that: “Most employers have not stopped recruiting graduates; they may have cut back on other staff, but they haven’t with graduates – or not as much as expected”.
One of the primary challenges facing disabled graduates is finding companies that are ‘disability confident’ and that have knowledge and understanding about how disability can affect people and what provisions to put in place to support them in the workplace. There are, however, companies out there that recognise the value of building a diverse workforce that reflects customer values and promote a better understanding of the needs of their whole customer base. The graduate schemes are used as a key component of this thinking and are very often proactively disability friendly. In fact, the idea of diversity is more popular than you might initially think. From a wider perspective it’s well worth underlining that the vast majority of graduates, including disabled, do not enter the workforce through graduate schemes.
The role of employers
Employers have begun to think more carefully about the people they employ and this inevitably includes graduates. Whilst a degree is a given entity – a finite qualification, it cannot describe what experiences and qualities a person has. Employers need people that can come in and use skills that can’t always be counted and quantified, among them: problem solving and resilience. Anybody with a disability that has achieved a qualification like a degree therefore has clearly developed mechanisms to live with and manage their disability. Suddenly, employers get excited.
It’s impossible to produce a list of things that every disabled graduate should know or do; the variables are without end but there are people that can give you advice and support. EmployAbility and Shaw Trust are two such organisations that can help disabled graduates plan their method of approach to the job market.
Some of the fundamentals remain the same irrespective of disability. Graduates need to channel their energies into thoroughly researching the sector they want o get into. This means looking into the general market, employers, successful individuals and how it all operates. This knowledge will pay you back in spades when you make an insightful comment at interview.
Remember too that it’s not just about disability – it’s about ability. Don’t let your disability be the thing that defines you. Sell yourself on the back of your talents, skills and hard won experience.
Shaw Trust, www.shaw-trust.org.uk
Employ Ability. www.employ-ability.org.uk