Finding an easier way to inclusion

22nd of November 2023
Finding an easier way to inclusion

ECJ’s Lotte Printz on supported employment (SE) for disabled people in Sweden in the cleaning industry.

The approaches may differ, but all over Europe it’s being discussed how to include people with disabilities in the ordinary labour market. In real jobs in real workplaces with real workmates and real pay.

In Sweden, approximately half a million people, out of a population of 10 million, of which six million are of working age, have some sort of disability; intellectual disabilities, mental health issues, brain injuries, etc. There are no quotas here dictating how many employees with a disability companies should take on, and 200,000 people with a disability are waiting for a chance of a job.

Samhall, a Swedish, government-owned company is the locomotive in this field, providing jobs for the disabled in the cleaning industry, among others. But more players are needed, Mikael Klein at WiljaGruppen, a government-funded company working with social sustainability and inclusion, believes.

The way forward, says Klein, is to campaign so more companies know what it is about, know they are not on their own, but also revise their views on where to look for candidates. More importantly, perhaps, politicians ought to provide an easier, less bureaucratic, path for employers so they get the right support.

“They should not be expected to do everything on their own. It must be support they can derive benefit from. In our experience, there’s a will, but for a small company, for instance, to dare take on a task like this, expert knowledge must be provided. We have to remember that expert knowledge costs, so that’s why politicians should find the money.

“Just handing over a bag of money to the employers does not work, however. They should not be ‘a helping hand’, rather an employer that needs an ordinary job done. And if a disabled employee can work five hours, that should account for 100 per cent and that’s what the employer pays for,” Mikael Klein explains.

Supported employment (SE) it’s called. It does turn the usual approach applied a bit upside down, because it places the disabled at a workplace first and there the employee’s strengths and abilities are mapped out in accordance with the will and wishes of the individual with the help of an expert job coach. One individual is matched with one job coach who stays on throughout and also plays an active part at the workplace helping team leaders, managers and colleagues to find and make the changes necessary for the disabled to be fully functional in line with abilities.

“This process may take years, though. There’s no quick fix. It takes patience and endurance to make this work,” Klein says.

SE was developed in the United States in the 1970s, mainly for people with intellectual disabilities, currently representing 70 per cent of clients at WiljaGruppen, but it also works with other disabled people, people with Aspergers, former criminals or addicts.

Mikael acknowledges, though, that people with intellectual disabilities may not fit in a cleaning job as their ability to assess whether something is clean or needs to be cleaned may be impaired. But cleaning and facilities services companies could have great use of people that bring special abilities or skills to a job, like people with Aspergers, for example.

“We believe that there’s a job for everybody. And it could be at any workplace, in any industry and any profession,” Mikael Klein points out.

It takes will, but paths also need to be cleared.


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