The private sector must do more to support government and include South Africans with disabilities in the workforce. This will not only benefit both the individuals as well as businesses, but the economy at large. That was the overarching message during today’s multi-stakeholder gathering ahead of International Day of People with Disabilities.
The event, a prelude to the government’s disability awareness virtual webinar, taking place tomorrow, was attended by the Deputy Minister for the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Hlengiwe Buhle Mkhize. The aim was to discuss why and how the private sector can and should absorb more disabled people into their workforces.
“People with disabilities are still perceived as unemployable, and as a result, they struggle to find meaningful work and are more likely to live in poverty,” said LESCO chairman Sipho Nkosi, former CEO of Exxaro Resources. This mindset needs to change, he said. “Just because you are ‘differently’ abled does not mean you cannot add value to an organisation. Small adaptations in the workspace are often enough to accommodate disabled staff and enable them to function fully at work. It starts with the corporate will to include them.”
Mkhize agreed indicating that every programme that gives someone an empowerment and economic opportunity is vital for everybody’s overall wellbeing. But more so for persons with disabilities as it not only will finance their livelihood but also, eradicate poverty and lessen dependence on social safety nets like disability grants. “Manufacturing has a massive role to play in South Africa’s economic recovery plan and if we are to build our economy inclusive of the disability sector, then we need to emulate what companies like LESCO Manufacturing are doing. We must encourage private procurement practises that seek out companies and suppliers owned by or comprised of a workforce of persons with disabilities to really push for a procurement model that empowers this sector. For me, this is an important objective because the disability sector is not looking for handouts, but opportunities to work and contribute to the economy,” she said.
LESCO Manufacturing is working to demonstrate to the private sector, with all of its 100+ factory employees being functionally disabled or unskilled. “All of our factory workers are exceptionally valuable because we chose to figure out what their strengths and capabilities are, instead of focusing on their challenges,” Nkosi explained. “We work with this often-forgotten talent pool because it forms part of how we see the role of diversity in creating innovation whilst doing good.”
Onyi Nwaneri, CEO of recruitment and placement company Afrika Tikkun Services, shares Nkosi’s views. “We have partnered with LESCO to help them find employees who meet their requirements, especially young members of staff. The youth are hit hardest by our unemployment crisis, with young disabled men and women topping the list, it’s imperative we address this need,” she said.
“We are incredibly proud to partner with an organisation that utilises and enhances the value of these young people, not just through job creation but by focusing on their professional and personal development, from skills training to weekly speech, occupational, and physiotherapy sessions.”
Senamile Mdaka, Director at the Collin Mdaka Foundation, strategic partners with LESCO added that disability is a core component of identity, much like race and gender and commended the example provided by all the participants involved, which demonstrates that stakeholders and lawmakers alike in the disability community, have increasingly recognised the urgent need to break down barriers to employment, upward mobility, and economic security for people with disabilities.
Nkosi added one should not perceive interventions to include disabled staff members and helping them grow as an expense, but rather as a business investment. “The better your staff members feel, the better they perform. This benefits companies, too. In our case, it helps us expand our production, which stands at 22,000 items per day or 8 million per year,” he said, noting the economy is the third winner. “The stronger local businesses, the better it is for our economy.”