People with disabilities comprise the world’s largest minority group and they face significant barriers to employment. But in most cases they are eager and willing to work, and can significantly increase a company’s productivity. This article looks at the example of the Centre for Persons with Disability Livelihoods in India with its market-oriented approach to help disabled youth get a job in the formal sector.
Gitanjali Gems operates a diamond cutting, polishing, and jewellery-making business in Hyderabad, India. Given the lack of trained manpower, the company faces a major challenge. In this context, Gitanjali Gems has made training and hiring disabled youth an integral part of the company’s human resource strategy. The turnover rate for its disabled employees is 1 percent compared to the industry average of 10-15 percent. In most months, a disabled employee wins the productivity award, even though they constitute only 12 percent of the company’s current workforce of 2,500. With productivity and cost advantages on its side, Gitanjali Gems is planning to triple its workforce in the next two years and aims to recruit 1,000 people with disabilities as a central component of its growth strategy. Madhusudhan Reddy, Gitanjali Gems’ vice president of human resources, says, “Most employers suffer from preconceived notions about the disabled, so they see only weaknesses. They are differently abled, not disabled – once you frame them that way, you see their strengths.”
Around the world, people with disabilities face significant barriers to employment. The best way to help them is often to help them secure a decent job – something the Centre for Persons with Disability Livelihoods (CPDL) has been doing successfully with Gitanjali Gems and other clients. CPDL is a public-private partnership between Youth4Jobs (Y4J), a private-sector foundation, and the government that uses a market-oriented approach to help disabled youth get a job in the formal sector.
About 600 million people live with a disabilities according to the International Labor Organization, which promotes decent work as the most effective way of getting out of the vicious cycle of marginalisation, poverty, and social exclusion. Poor people are more at risk of acquiring a disability due to lack of good nutrition, healthcare, sanitation, and safe living and working conditions. People with disabilities face barriers to education, employment, and public services that could otherwise help them escape poverty. Buildings and transportation are often inaccessible. They also often suffer from social discrimination, stereotypes, and exclusion. As in the general population, there are strong gender and geographic differences among people with disabilities; women and girls in rural areas are often the most disadvantaged.
Persons with Disability in India
In India, there are an estimated 70 million people with disabilities – 5 percent of the country’s population. Of these, only about 100,000 (1.5%) have succeeded in getting employment in the formal industrial sector. In Indian society, there is a deep-rooted social stigma toward body impairment or disfigurement as “inauspicious,” thus limiting interaction between people with disabilities and the rest of society. Unfortunately, there are many barriers for people with disabilities to enter the labour force and get a decent job:
• Lack of adequate education, training, and employment services
• Fears, stereotypes, and discrimination, particularly among employers
• Psychological issues caused by social exclusion
• Lack of effective legislation and policy support for their human and civil rights
• Lack of information about people with disabilities, which can render them ‘invisible’ and forgotten
• Lack of access to assistive devices, technology, accommodations, support services, and information
• Inaccessible buildings and transportation systems
On its own, the government has initiated a plethora of programs to promote employment for them, but the impact to date has been negligible. In 2008, for example, the Indian Finance Minister allocated $360 million for a program to reimburse employers who provide jobs to disabled workers. The aim was to create 100,000 jobs per year, but after three years, the program had generated only 465 jobs.
CPDL’s Bold Vision
The ambitious vision of the CPDL is to make inclusive employment of people with disabilities the norm in Indian companies. The organization was jointly founded in 2010 by Youth4Jobs, a not-for-profit organization that works across India to train impoverished young people and harness India’s demographic dividend, and the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), which is part of the Rural Development Department of the state government of Andhra Pradesh. CPDL is an unusual partnership between government and a group of committed team members with a private sector background. The vision, strategy, and the public face of the program have been crafted by the private sector team, whose salaries are paid by the private foundations. The government pays for the training costs, both at CPDL as well as the partner organizations. The rent for the CPDL offices and training facilities is raised from philanthropic sources by the private sector team; there is no intermediary NGO involvement. The private sector team works independently with full autonomy. Since the government does not pay their salaries, the relationship of the team with their government counterparts is not hierarchical.
CPDL’s expertise lies in working on the entire labour value chain, taking young people with disabilities from unemployment/underemployment to a formal sector job. This involves identifying and motivating new workers, training them to meet the demands of the market, inviting companies to recruit them, and mentoring them in their new workplace. CPDL offers training in ten different sectors: hospitality, retail, banking and finance, business process outsourcing, information technology, telecommunications, healthcare, textiles, and manufacturing. The youth are channelled to the most appropriate sector, based on their competencies and abilities; for example, illiterate youth tend to go into manufacturing and textiles, those with basic literacy into hospitality, and more educated young people into information technology.
CPDL has developed a customized curriculum based on practical situations that people with disabilities will encounter once employed. It also involves companies from the first day of training, which both sensitizes the companies and provides exposure to the students. Company staff give guest lectures, share their training modules, and mentor the youth in the classroom. Youth learn English communication and basic computer skills. Soft skill building is also an integral part of the curriculum, and includes lessons on grooming, health, hygiene, and body language. The last fifteen days of the program include specific sector trainings, depending on job vacancies and youth aspirations. Sectors include high-growth areas such as retail, hospitality, IT and IT-enabled services, and finance.
Y4J has formed a network of 200 companies with which it works, including firms such as McDonald’s, KFC, ITC Hotels, HDFC Bank, Tata Teleservices, and Unilever. The work of CPDL extends well beyond the classroom into the workplace. The team works closely in suggesting and ensuring simple workplace adjustments are made and in conducting workshops for sensitizing supervisors and managers in companies.
After the recruiting company has assessed worker competencies, they make job placements; no special concessions are made for the disabled other than simple workplace adjustments. Companies are beginning to realize that people with disabilities are an underused labour resource capable of hard work – in fact, they are generally eager to prove that their disability is not a deterrent to performance, leading to higher productivity. Disabled youth are also very loyal to employers, and firms find that they quickly recover any expenditure made in infrastructure adjustments and hiring costs. The companies also get a government subsidy that amounts to about 15 percent of the payroll cost of hiring people with disabilities. Aside from financial benefits, companies also get a public relations boost, and the disabled workers feel good about the competency-based approach.
Many companies hire a few persons with disability or fund some training as part of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. But the impact of these efforts is too little. Unless companies hire people with disabilities because it makes business sense and realize the value of an inclusive workforce, these CSR initiatives will not be sustainable nor have a large-scale impact. CPDL is working towards its vision of making inclusive employment of people with disabilities the norm in Indian companies.
Between October 2010 and December 2012, CPDL trained 3,200 young people with disabilities. Of these, 72 percent have successfully gained employment. Ninety percent of the recruiting companies are first-time employers of workers with disabilities. The employed youth’s incomes range from Rs. 45,000 to Rs. 100,000 (about $900-$2,000) per annum. All of them are the first members of their family to hold white-collar jobs. Both the youth and their families have been transformed by this experience.
People with disabilities comprise the world’s largest minority group. Organizations can replicate the CPDL model wherever market opportunities exist. It demonstrates that when companies, government, and disabled communities come together on one platform, it is a win-win for everyone. Companies get an alternative pool of loyal trained youth; governments move closer to their Millennium Development Goals, and the disabled youth and their families escape the vicious cycle of poverty.
Aneel Karnani is a professor at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. He is the author of the book Fighting Poverty Together: Rethinking Strategies for Business, Governments, and Civil Society to Reduce Poverty (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
Kevin McKague is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. His book Making Markets More Inclusive was published by Palgrave in 2014.
Meera Shenoy is the founder of the Youth4Jobs Foundation. She is a team member of the NSDA (National Skill Development Agency) and is senior advisor, UNDP, for its work on youth skilling and employment.