AGR Blog

Five steps: attracting disabled students

07.08.17

273 Helen Cooke

Engaging with disabled students and encouraging them to apply for graduate opportunities remains one of the key challenges faced by many organisations. Helen Cooke, Director and Founder of MyPlus Consulting, shares five steps on opening your doors to talented disabled students. 

Despite many employers being keen to engage with disabled students, progress remains slow and applicant numbers low. The reasons for this are many and varied, such as lack of resources, fear of this complex subject, being too busy to give it any meaningful consideration or even ‘too late’ to consider this talent pool as part of an attraction strategy.

Yet, in reality, it’s not that hard. The key is to be clear about what you want to achieve and why, and have a plan of how to get there. The following five steps will set you on your journey.

Step 1 - An inclusive attraction strategy

Before engaging with disabled students, it is crucial to take a step back and work out what you want to achieve and how you are going to achieve it. In essence, you need a strategy. Every employer who is serious about engaging with students will have a sophisticated, well thought through, attraction strategy and you need the same for engaging with disabled students. In fact, you don’t need a separate attraction strategy, you need an inclusive one. You need to ensure that every single thing that you do to engage with students is inclusive of all students, including those who have a disability or long-term health condition.

Strategy is key; it underpins everything else you do and without one you’ll find it hard to make significant progress. Having a strategy will make REAL sustainable progress more achievable.

Step 2 - Understanding

If you wish to successfully engage with any group of people you first have to understand them and the same is true for disabled individuals. You have to understand everything, from how they search for jobs to their concerns and questions.

Disability is a complex area however key areas include:

  • Lower confidence
  • Fear of being open
  • Discrimination
  • Being considered a ‘hassle’ or ‘nuisance’

Unless these very real issues are addressed, disabled students will continue to remove themselves from the process.

Step 3 - Tailor your marketing messages
When considering your marketing messages, you must first recognise that disabled students have the same wants, aspirations and questions as their non-disabled counterparts. You also need to recognise that they are going to look for this information in the same way that their non-disabled friends do. However, they also have questions relating to the fact that they have a disability and you have to provide this information too. 

Key messages could include:

  • That you are a disability confident organisation and what that means in practice
  • That you have a culture of ‘openness’ and encourage them to be open with you
  • Details of your recruitment process so they can identify the support they will need
  • Reassurance of confidentiality

Incorporating messages such as these into your communication will help reassure people that you are an employer of choice for disabled individuals, making them feel comfortable to start engaging with you.

Step 4 - Communication channels

Having worked out what your key messages are you then have to ensure that you get them ‘out there’ and in front of the 11.5% of students who have a disability. You need to ensure that every single communication channel that you use to engage with students carries your key messages for disabled students. Being half hearted in this won’t enable you to achieve real sustainable progress; you have to go for complete saturation.

Step 5 - Role models

Role models are one of the most impactful ways to engage with disabled students; hearing from those who have a disability, who are already working for you and who are enjoying successful careers, demonstrates that you actually do what you say you do when it comes to recruiting and supporting disabled individuals. 

While it is really important to have a strategy, communicate your key messages and establish effective relationships, the single most effective way to engage with disabled students is to bring it all to life by enabling them to hear from those who are already within your organisation.

Some individuals may not wish to be a ‘role model’, but many many more will. You only have to read the 70 plus case studies on My Plus Students' Club to see how forthcoming employees are to share their story.

Helen Cooke is running a half-day AGR Professional workshop on Discovering potential: opening doors to talented disabled graduates on Thursday 21 September 2017. The session is now open for bookings.

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