Published On: Wed, Feb 11th, 2015

The Disabled as an Economic Resource – By Dr. Ajay Kela

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image_42571Can corporate India leverage the inherent tenacity and leadership quality of the educated disabled to benefit both business and society?

Bangalore: India has a very unique talent pool of an estimated 2-3 million educated disabled. What makes them so unique? The educated disabled have demonstrated tremendous resilience and have been toughened by the day to day challenges of inadequate school facilities, lack of accommodating transport infrastructure and yet have graduated from high schools and colleges. This segment of society reflects an enormous “can-do” attitude and is equipped with tremendous staying power which corporate India can leverage.

Corporate India could easily derive better business value in terms of higher productivity, reduced attrition and lowered training costs by employing this talented pool within existing corporate jobs. Today, the average employment rate of disabled people in the private sector is only 0.28%. The public sector showed an employment rate of 0.54% even though the population of the disabled in the country exceeds 6%.

The inherent reasons for the lack of sensitivity on behalf of the corporate sector are a matter of concern. But, it hasn’t helped that the government too has fallen behind its plans. ‘Scheme of Incentives to Employers in the Private Sector for providing Employment to Persons with Disabilities’ (PwD) which was launched in 2008 was meant to create 100,000 jobs annually for the disabled. It has barely created a few hundred. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment also seems unable to motivate the private sector through incentives that encourage the employment of the disabled. The government has agreed to reimburse the employers’ contribution to the provident fund for disabled employees earning up to INR 25,000 for the first three years. INR 1,800 crore was sanctioned for this scheme under the 11th Five Year Plan. The revised estimate for the year 2009-2010 was INR 3 crore, out of which only INR 1 crore was released.

The orthodox routes of disability management focused around welfare, reservations, concessions, subsidies and other short-term practices have clearly failed to deliver results. India has a large and unique population of educated disabled with excellent leadership skills, staying capacity and unparalleled productivity. Can the past be set aside and can corporate India realize the business value of the three million educated disabled? Corporate India was very averse to hiring woman a couple of decades ago and now women form the mainstream of Indian corporates. That’s the kind of paradigm shift we strive to see in the employment of educated PwDs by Corporates.

Large enterprises with foresight and taking a cue from western world, where the disabled fare are already part of the mainstream, are working towards leveraging this positive slice of the demographic pie. Companies such as Wipro, Tata, Mindtree, GenPact, Symphony Services and Mphasis have recognized that the disabled can solve many persistent human resource problems and are hiring the disabled in encouraging numbers.

Across all sectors companies can employ people with disabilities that map to specific jobs. For instance, the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry has greater than 50% attrition of current employees due to mismatch of job aspirations. Back-end data processing can easily be handled by majority of physically disabled or those with speech and hearing impairment.

A special ‘Saksham’ training centre of the Gitanjali Group in Hyderabad where PwDs undergo six months training programme in the basics of jewellery designing and manufacturing, aims to provide jobs to 1,000 PWDs. Others are creating similar examples in a bid to use a resource that has so far remained hidden. Today’s growing economy has the ability to deliver a win-win solution for the disabled in society and for corporate India.

Businesses have begun to recognize the wealth that exists in Persons with Disabilities. They are putting in place processes and support systems that can fine-tune this talent to meet their needs. It is a momentous change silently taking place within the folds of corporate India.

Organizations like the Wadhwani Foundation are propelling the change with their mission of mainstreaming the educated disabled in corporate India. The Foundation through its initiative, ‘Opportunity Network for Disabled (OND)’ aims to achieve this by training and placement of disabled individuals into mid-skill entry level jobs with the goal of placing 100,000 disabled over five years. They hope that the companies will recognize the business value through these initial hires in terms of increased productivity, inclusivity, loyalty (retention) and quality of output, and recruit the remaining educated millions, making it a self- sustaining model.

The Foundation works with companies to identify functional areas and required competencies for potential jobs within the enterprise; it then recruits and trains candidates in these competencies; and finally it facilitates placement and provides post-placement support to the company and the candidate. By matching skills to abilities of disabled candidates and providing targeted, market -linked vocational training that is relevant to the needs of employers, it enables PwDs to offer higher quality of work over a sustained period of time. The Foundation’s approach, which is replicable, has delivered success in a wide variety of industries such as business process outsourcing, remote infrastructure management, retail sales and facilities management. The Foundation has already placed close to 8000 PwDs with Retail, IT and Hospitality as leading sectors employing the disabled.

On the other hand, Industry bodies such as NASSCOM have established programs to pursue their member companies to make offices disabled friendly and are conducting advocacy campaigns around business value of employing the disabled.

Today’s corporate responsibilities are being redefined and businesses must work towards better integration with the societies they serve. As corporate India becomes more sensitized and addresses the needs of the disabled to create sustainable business advantage, this is going to be one of the most significant developments for the country.

Dr. Ajay Kela is the President & CEO, Wadhwani Foundation

www.wadhwani-foundation.org

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