It was a real pleasure to be invited to meet with leading figures in the retail sector at last week’s Retail Week Live.
It coincided with International Women’s Day, which was timely given that 60% of people employed by the sector are women.
The retail industry is one of our most important sectors, and is currently undergoing significant transformation and upheaval.
It’s having to adapt at pace to constant changes in technology and on the high street.
“Without doubt, success in retail comes from looking after your customers and looking after your workers”
The theme for me at last week’s event was recruitment and how Government, particularly the Department for Work & Pensions, could support the industry in filling its 92,000 vacancies with people with the right skills and talent.
Without doubt, success in retail comes from looking after your customers and looking after your workers.
The most important of those is looking after your workers and hiring the right people.
After all, it is the people you hire that look after your customers, and not only look after them, but also relate to them and represent them.
It was with that purpose that I met with leading figures in retail, including Marks & Spencer, AO.com, Dune, Intu and Joules to discuss Disability Confident and the support it can offer to the sector.
When I was minister for disabled people, I came up with the idea of Disability Confident to support employers to help disabled people in the workplace.
The Disability Confident scheme gives employers the skills, tools and support they need to recruit or retain people who have a disability or long-term health condition.
This can include online guidance, support and exclusive activities helping businesses to offer meaningful opportunities for disabled people, which could include paid employment, apprenticeships or work experience.
When I chaired the Future of Jobs Commission for the recruitment industry, a key conclusion was the need to see a labour market where inclusion is the norm.
“It was a real pleasure when meeting retail leaders to hear they all agreed that disabled people are an asset in a diverse and modern workforce”
It shouldn’t be an afterthought once all other avenues have been explored; it should be front and centre of every retailer’s employment offer.
So it was a real pleasure when meeting retail leaders to hear they all agreed that disabled people are an asset in a diverse and modern workforce.
With more than 7 million working-age people in this country with a disability or health condition, they represent a vast and varied pool of talent.
That’s a massive group that businesses should be reaching out to, both as customers and employees.
Especially when you consider that disabled customers and their families have £249bn worth of spending power.
But it’s not just their spending power that should motivate employers.
The best businesses should want to reflect the diversity of their customer base in their workforce.
Many employers have misconceptions about employing disabled people, or a fear of ‘doing the wrong thing’.
“The best businesses should want to reflect the diversity of their customer base in their workforce”
These barriers can be overcome through the support of Disability Confident.
More than 5,500 organisations have already signed up, including more than 240 retailers, and have helped some of those 600,000 disabled people who have entered work in the last four years.
I want more retailers to benefit from a diverse and inclusive workforce.
Signing up will demonstrate once again how the retail sector is leading the way by giving more disabled people than ever the opportunity to thrive and prosper in work.
Get involved. Sign up today.