Remploy changes attitudes to disability at work

25th of October 2011

European Cleaning Journal editor Michelle Marshall visits a government-funded organisation in the UK that helps people with disabilities to find employment. Remploy has formed relationships with some of the industry’s leading contract cleaning companies, and ECJ discovers why the cleaning sector is such an ideal partner for Remploy.

Through its network of branches and offices throughout England, Scotland and Wales, Remploy’s mission is to transform the lives of disabled people and those who experience complex barriers to work by providing sustainable employment opportunities. Its philosophy is that work is a key element of an independent and fulfilling life, and that everyone has skills and abilities to offer. In the year 2010/11, Remploy found more than 20,000 jobs in mainstream employment for disabled and disadvantaged people.

“We support people with all disabilities,” explains Lesley-Jane Holt, national partnership manager for the FM sector.  “We are also here for people who can no longer work, or who have to change their job, because of a disability or health condition.”

How do people come into contact with the organisation? “Candidates must be referred to Remploy from their local Jobcentre Plus office, or other specialist organisations, such as their local authority,” says Holt.  “We also work with employers to support them with employees who may in turn need support to remain in work.”, continued Holt.

Each person seeking Remploy’s assistance in finding employment is individually profiled – there is a specially trained team of people to carry out interviews. The emphasis is on matching every candidate to the right job for them, so that sustainable employment can be achieved.  The Remploy team then works with the candidates to match them to the vacancies available with its employer partners. “We have strong relationships with our employer partners and work with them to understand the exact skills needed for their vacancies, so that we can match them with the right candidates for their needs,” Holt adds. Its list of partners is impressive, with names including BT, Asda, Royal Mail, Sainsbury’s and M&S.

Remploy’s first experience with the cleaning sector came in 2003, when it partnered City Facilities Management (UK), the company contracted to clean and maintain Asda supermarket stores throughout the UK. City employs 10,000 people and during the term of their partnership, which is still thriving today, almost 1,000 Remploy candidates have been supported into work there.

Mini supermarket branch

In fact, the partnership with City and Asda is so strong that in 2004, The Cleaning Academy was set up at a Remploy site in the north-west of England. This is, in effect, a mini branch of Asda incorporating shelving, cash tills, flooring, point of sale material, etc, where candidates for cleaning jobs are equipped with all the skills they need to clean floors, handle chemical dilution/dosing systems, operate under a colour coding system - all the things City employees would need to do in a live Asda store environment. Headed up by trainer Steve Heywood, this is currently the only cleaning academy Remploy has in the UK and trainees can either undergo training there, or on-site at other Asda stores across the country.

Having undergone any training required and developed their CV, candidates are then put forward for job vacancies at City. “City updates us daily on job vacancies and Remploy candidates are guaranteed an interview with them”, said Lesley. "An interview in itself can be a daunting prospect for many of our candidates, so we also offer them help with preparing for interviews, and dealing with any other situations that may arise when they’re in the workplace.”

The longstanding involvement with City has convinced Remploy that the cleaning sector is an ideal partner for its work, partly because of the high employee turnover rates the industry suffers from generally, but also because Remploy has the right calibre of candidates needed for work in the sector. It has also successfully placed candidates with well-known contract cleaning names such as TC Cleaning Services, MITIE, Sodexo, ISS and OCS – to name just a few.

“Our experience over recent years has shown cleaning jobs to be a good entry level of employment for those people entering the job market for the first time - or taking those first steps to getting back into work - with good opportunities for career progression further into their career,” said Holt.

And for City, the added benefit of its partnership with Remploy has been a reduction in the employee turnover rate. “We have found that Remploy candidates stay with their employer for longer. Some of our candidates have also progressed to become managers and supervisors,” said Holt. “This is partly down to our in-work support, which supports both the employer and the employee to get the most out of their employment."

Lisa Kelman, people director at City FM, commented on how its involvement with Remploy has benefited its business. “Working with Remploy has helped us to source candidates with the skills we need, who know what to expect when they start work. This has led to higher retention rates among Remploy candidates, reducing our recruitment and training costs.”

Enthusiastic and reliable

And Emma Palmer, deputy City FM manager echoed her sentiments. “I’ve recently interviewed a Remploy candidate who had attended The Cleaning Academy. It was really refreshing to interview someone with knowledge of our procedures and processes. The individual really stood out at interview.”

The feedback from employers who recruit staff via Remploy is always positive, Holt says. “Our candidates offer enthusiastic reliability and often demonstrate fierce loyalty to the employers who have been able to see past a medical label. Retention levels are high, and many of our candidates love being part of a team.”

Remploy prides itself on the fact it is preparing people for real-life situations, and matching candidates to jobs that suit them. “We aim to place people wherever they feel most comfortable. In cleaning, for example, some like to be customer-facing, while others prefer to be behind the scenes. We can accommodate that in a supermarket because there are areas such as kitchens, staff areas, and warehouses that need to be cleaned – it’s not just about the shop floor.”

Once they’ve been placed, Remploy continues to support its candidates for as long as they need. “We do emphasise to employers that staff who have been appointed via Remploy must be treated in exactly the same way as everyone else. However, if the employee or their employer wants us to, we will stay on hand to provide support.”

Better CSR policies

Why are more cleaning contractors – and companies in general – open to working with Remploy than they may have been just a few years ago? Attitudes have changed significantly in recent years, Holt explains, and she attributes this to contractors’ clients demanding better CSR policies when selecting service providers. “So many corporate clients now place CSR at the heart of their business, and they expect those same values to run through the contractors they employ as well – and this is where Remploy can be of help. Employers are also increasingly recognising the very real skills and abilities of disabled people.

In this regard, another valuable service Remploy provides to employers on a regular basis is management information – statistics on how many candidates have been put forward, how many were appointed, etc. “This kind of data is really valuable for contractors when they are making presentations to clients,” Holt believes. “Because such a clear and defined diversity/CSR policy can really set a contractor apart when tendering for new contracts.”

So far, Remploy has worked mainly in the retail sector of the cleaning industry, but Holt has ambitions to go into other areas - office cleaning and healthcare for example. She would love to work closely with more cleaning contractors and is continually exploring new ideas to improve the training and preparation for the industry the organisation offers to candidates.

She explained: “In the past, many companies were frightened of disability discrimination and equality laws. But if people can be entirely open and honest about their disability or health condition, they can be more productive employees. There has certainly been a huge shift in social attitudes  - ill health and/or disability do not prevent people from making a positive contribution in the workplace.”

For more information about Remploy’s work visit To find out more about its partnerships in the cleaning industry, email Lesley-Jane Holt:


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