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13th October Journal Column

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

A report on the disability employment gap found that as of last year, only 49% of disabled people were in work. That means there’s still more than half of disabled people who could be out there looking for work, with the ideal skills for the industry, Given the skills shortage in the industry, I think we’d be silly to ignore this.

The definition of disability is very broad. Under the Equality Act 2010, you are disabled if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long term’ negative effect on your ability to carry out normal daily activities.

The industry needs a diverse workforce; people who think outside of the box and have different skills sets. For example, somebody with a hearing impairment might have heightened sensory awareness and spot something others completely miss, and in this industry, it pays to have an eye for detail. People on the autistic spectrum often think differently to others and have great attention to detail which can often speed up a problem solving or decision-making process.

In the industry, 199,802 people out of a total 2,139,068 have a disability, that’s 9.3% of the workforce (Labour Force Survey, April to June 2017), which might not seem a lot, but compared to other industries, it’s pretty good. Although there’s still room for improvement in terms of recruitment, the evidence suggests that as an industry we are good at supporting those who become disabled during their working lives. We work in an industry which has its hazards and past ways of working, and some current ones, can result in ill health or injury which have a significant impact on people. It’s therefore important that they are supported through readjustments, ensuring they have everything they need to carry out the same or an equivalent job.


You are not obliged to disclose a disability to your employer but if you do, you are protected under the Equality Act 2010, meaning it is unlawful for employers to treat you less favourably for a reason connected to the disability. If you choose not to disclose a disability, your employer will not have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to ensure you can carry out your work.

There are some fantastic examples of ways organisations support the inclusion agenda and we need to ensure the built environment is inclusive. For example, Network Rail have the Built Environment Accessibility Panel (BEAP) – a board of elderly people, access experts and those with disabilities who work with project teams to ensure the resultant scheme is inclusive to all. The BEAP are available to any team renovating or designing new stations to ensure the station is accessible, something every major company or project could benefit from. 


The problem, as always, seems to lie in the misconception of the industry rather than the industry’s attitude towards diversity. We’ve always struggled with people having the wrong image of construction, we need to sell ourselves to those with disabilities and show them what we can offer.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.


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