Employability and Access to Work
Distributing work fairly and helping people back into work
Many people are excluded from work on account of their domestic circumstances or
physical problems they face in travelling to a place of work. The new information and
communications technologies (ICT) can overcome many
of these constraints by bringing work to the worker - as long as companies and
organisations are aware of the possibilities and are prepared to break out of traditional
ways of thinking and adopt new "location independent" ways of working.
This briefing paper examines:
- the various social groups who can benefit from gaining electronic access to work
- the reasons for and the benefits of introducing more flexible approaches to work
- current examples of innovative working practices which have brought work opportunities
to disadvantaged and mobility-restricted groups
- likely developments over the next few years
- issues to address in promoting best practice.
The aim of this paper is to demonstrate how ICT can be used to promote equal
opportunities and allow employers to tap in to the skills of many workers currently
disadvantaged in the labour market.
|"Going to work":
||Many of the difficulties faced by
individuals who are disadvantaged in the workplace are linked to the imperative to
"go to work". That one leaves the home to go to work has become an accepted norm
in the industrial age: travelling long distances is commonplace in an age of mass transit
systems and personal motorised transport.
||Generally we accept the
disadvantages routine travel to work brings, in return for the economic benefits. But
there are many groups in society whose mobility is restricted, typically through:
- temporary illness or disablement
- permanent disability, or long-term illness
- childcare responsibility
- caring for sick/disabled relatives
- not owning a vehicle/not being able to drive in an area where there is a "public
Amongst those classed as seeking work, men are in the majority in the first two
categories, while women dominate the latter three. There is an increasing public policy
focus on such groups within the context of analysing - and seeking remedies for - social
exclusion. The culture of commuting is a major contributor to social exclusion in these
|Work follows the worker:
||The use of ICT offers a
flexibility of location which can help to overcome mobility restrictions. The essence of
the advantage is that the rigid connection between work and a physical workplace is
severed: modern ICT allows access to work even where physical access to the workplace
Work may be undertaken at home, or closer to home. In many cases
people in the categories above can - and may even prefer to - work in the
"normal" workplace for some of the time, but for medical or caring reasons
cannot sustain a full working day, or work every day.
||The key point is that ICT may be
used as a vehicle for equalising opportunity. This has knock-on implications for HR
practices, particularly in relation to sex and disability discrimination practices. Case
law is beginning to develop in the US in this regard.
|Opening doors to employment
||Flexible or at least
non-standard - working arrangements have been common for many years amongst people with
caring responsibilities or disabilities. Mostly these have taken the form of temporal
flexibility, that is flexibility in the number and arrangement of working-hours. Examples
of this include part-time working, term-time working, job-share, annual hours and flexible
||These forms of working are
usually classed as "flexible", in that the hours of work vary from the 9-5 norm,
and are tailored more to suit the needs of the employee while still satisfying the
requirement of the employer.
One characteristic of modern "flexitime" schemes
is that it puts greater responsibility into the employees' hands for organising their
work. There are a number of models for this, and a variety of different methods for
monitoring both hours and performance.
(as at Oxfordshire County Council) take flexitime a stage further; and are in many ways a
natural evolution from it. Flexiplace allows employees to organise their work more
effectively not only in terms of when it is done, but where it is done also. In particular
it allows workers to eliminate unnecessary journeys back to base, and to avoid travelling
at congested peak periods, as well as to seek the most appropriate location for different
types of work.
||One key aim of such new ways of
working is to reduce stress. The CBI have estimated that absenteeism and staff turnover
due to stress cost UK industry £1.3 billion per year. The Health and Safety executive
calculate that 183,000 workers suffer work-related stress each year.
Recent court cases
have established that employers can be liable if they fail to identify and act to remedy
stress in the workplace. Eliminating difficult journeys and allowing work to take place in
less stressful environments are two practical options. Failure to allow this where it is a
viable option could have serious consequences.
|Achieving a home/work
||Often a primary source of stress
is coping with conflicting roles. These often collide most severely at the home/work
interface. Today's worker is often employee, parent, chauffeur, nurse, homework mentor,
elder-care organiser. Rigid separation of these roles is usually expected, but in practice
is often difficult. Children get sick, childminders don't turn up, work spills over into
The result is that individuals can feel extremely stressed, feeling that
whatever they are doing, somebody is being let down, and feeling under constant pressure
to move onto the next role. Incorporating time-wasting travel into this multi-skilled and
multi-role lifestyle adds to the pressure - and commuting itself is generally a stressful
Many home-based telework schemes include "achieving a better home/work
balance" amongst their objectives. The outcome is in most cases less stressed and
more productive workers, and in particular a working environment which is more amenable to
people with demanding caring roles or who find either travel or sustained work in one
location physically challenging.
geographical barriers to work:
||In the instances considered so
far, the access-to-work difficulties relate to constraints that make travel to work (at
times) difficult. The assumption is, however, that a journey from home to work is in
principle possible - for example when the children are at school, or when are older, or
for someone without the limiting illness or disability.
However, there are also
instances when the distance from the workplace is too great for a viable daily commute. In
such circumstances ICT helps with regard to access to work in 2 distinct areas:
|1) Retaining and recruiting
||Where a company wishes to
retain or recruit an employee who lives/is going to live far away. It may be that the
partner of a valued employee has to move for their work. Rather than lose the employee, it
is becoming increasingly common for companies to come to new working arrangements which
involve teleworking to a greater or lesser extent, either working from home or working out
of a local office. Sometimes hybrid arrangements emerge which involve staying over for a
couple of days while working the remainder of the time remotely.
|2) Route into the jobs
||Where workers live in less
accessible areas, with very limited work opportunities locally and which are not suited to
their skills. In these instances working down the wire can be the primary route into
the job market.
The position for the employee in these two situations is likely to be
very different. In the first case the employee is a known quantity and is in demand. In
the second this may well not be the case, and how such workers market their skills and
find work is a key consideration. Enabling work to find its way electronically to rural
areas may be crucial to the survival of rural, particularly remote rural, communities.
||Between the ages of 50 and
pensionable age, disabled workers are three times more likely to be without work than
non-disabled people of the same age. This is higher than the ratio for economically active
disabled people as a whole. Often disabling injuries sustained at this age, or the onset
of illnesses which inhibit the ability to work, lead in effect to the end of a person's
This need not be the case. A more flexible approach to location and
hours, plus appropriate retraining, can overcome the need for enforced premature
retirement, or taking menial work nearby which fails to make use of the individual's
skills or potential.
Putting theory into practice
|Workers with disabilities
work from home
||There are increasing numbers of
people with disabilities working from home using ICT. One example is AA call centre
operators. While the AA has retained its large office-based call centre operation, it is
also using a network of home-based teleworkers, all of whom are disabled.
.or from telework
||However, many disabled workers
feel isolated by their disabilities and actively want to leave the house in order to work.
One option is teleworking centres adapted to their needs. The EC COMBAT project has
successfully set up call centres for workers with disabilities in Dublin and Barcelona.
feature of these has been the incorporation of appropriate assistive technology to adapt
equipment to the particular needs of workers. The term "disability" covers a
multitude of conditions and needs. It is often argued that the word "disabled"
is misapplied to workers, as it is the workplace which is disabling. That is, the
workplace is designed without regard to the needs of society as a whole, and effectively
excludes people who interface with their work in different ways.
|Parents of terminally ill
||Huge demands are placed on the
parents of persistently or terminally ill children. One organisation set up to deal with
this is the Nigel Clare Network Trust (NCNT), named after two children who died after long
illnesses and many years of caring by their parents. The trust was set up to help parents
and employers adjust to the demands of long term caring, by providing equipment and
support to work from home.
even all parents:
||Similar though less critical
considerations apply to all parents. A report by the Institute of Public Policy Research
found that work patterns are the single most important determinant of fathers'
relationship with their children: 82% of fathers work full-time, for an average 47 hours a
week, not including travelling time. This situation has led to what has been called
"a deficit of women in the workplace, and a deficit of fathering in the home".
research has found that one in three people caring for an elderly relative also has
children under sixteen.
The DFEE Managers' Guide to Teleworking recommends teleworking as a way to
overcome such problems, partly on the basis that it allows workers to juggle the time of
work around other responsibilities. This may be true of some work, but certainly not all
(e.g. the AA distributed call centre workers). Being at home or nearer to home does not
allow the worker to perform two roles at once: rather it does ease considerably the
problems associated with organising childcare etc.
|Retaining key workers:
||As one might expect telework is
increasingly common in Sweden, where a geographically dispersed population, an advanced
telecommunications market and a progressive social model combine to encourage innovative
working practices. It is becoming increasingly common for organisations in the public
sector in particular to offer teleworking as an option to retain valued staff when they
move further away.
|Being in lots of places at
||In 1995 the Swedish Culture
minister set up a remote office to cope with the different demands of being a constituency
MP and a minister - and she was also a working mother. Being in touch with all areas of
her work wherever she was based was critical. In the UK one of the most "wired"
MPs is Paddy Ashdown, who manages a highly itinerant life and separate roles in his
constituency, at Westminster and as party leader by extensive use of ICT. However, one
does not have to be a politician to have the imperative to be in touch with several
locations at once.
|Portfolio man and woman?
and casualisation of the workforce are widely predicted to continue, with the decline of
the job or career for life. Tomorrow's successful worker must be adaptable, willing to
learn new skills and to change jobs numerous times or take on varying kinds of work at
The other demands in our lives however tend to be less flexible and thrive on
security rather than insecurity. If workforce trends emerge as predicted, workers with
marketable skills who are comfortable taking on work from a variety of sources, mediated
through ICT, has a head start.
||With an increasingly ageing
population, and decreasing numbers of younger workers supporting an increasingly dependent
population, there are likely to be trends towards phased retirement. This dovetails with
moves to combat ageism at work.
Older workers who are willing to work flexibly are
likely to find themselves highly marketable, particularly if they can take on work from
anywhere using electronic communications.
||The Disability Discrimination Act
requires employers to make "reasonable accommodation" for the needs of workers
(or applicants for work) with disabilities. What this and other terms in the Act mean is
likely to be defined by a mixture of ministerial decree and case law as it emerges through
tribunals and the courts.
In the US, where the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has
similar phrasing, recent cases have specified that teleworking may in certain instances
qualify as a "reasonable accommodation" - for example in the case of a disabled
worker required to travel long distances when her firm downsized. Another decision
supported the right of a woman who experienced complications during pregnancy to work from
How ICT can be used to implement reasonable accommodation, by extending the workplace
beyond its physical confines, is worth thinking about in advance of the case law.
|The Trojan horse for
||Innovations brought in to help
people with disabilities often have wider applications and are taken up on a larger scale
- the typewriter is one obvious example.
People with disabilities working remotely -
whether from home, site to site or being the person who teleconferences at meetings - will
set practical examples that others will follow. It may be down to them to demonstrate how
effectively work can be done "down the wire".
|Not all good news, perhaps:
||The use of ICT to provide access
to work where previously it was problematic has many benefits. However, bringing work home
can create its own set of problems. The blurring of the division between home and work can
have a negative as well as positive impact, by bringing the stress of the workplace into
the home, or feeling that there is no escape from work. Dealing with these is part of the
HR and management challenges presented by new ways of working.
Issues to address
|Promoting best practice,
training and helping workers to market:
||The key issues to address in the
use of ICT for promoting access to work are:
- spreading awareness of the realistic possibilities, amongst both employers and those in
search of work
- analysing the labour market in terms of people who are "excluded" from work by
constraints on their access to workplaces
- establishing best practice and guidelines for promoting equal employability
- marketing the skills of ICT literate workers to both local employers and further afield
- training or retraining for electronically mediated working.
On workers with disabilities, information on the EC
COMBAT project is available from HOP
A useful booklet has also
been published by DGXIII of the European Commission, Older People and People with
Disabilities in the Information Society (1998).
Older but still relevant and also
published by the Commission is a collection of essays edited by Stephen von
Tetzchner, Issues in Telecommunications and Disability.
The UK Online for Business website, www.ukonlineforbusiness.gov.uk
explores telematics initiatives for
The US Office of Workplace Initiatives, www.gsa.gov/pbs/owi/owi.htm
, has useful information and examples of family-friendly and equal opportunities