When human resources expert Michael Evans was approached to help people with disabilities prepare for job interviews, the request intimidated him.
“I was not scared of anything,” he says.
“I served in the air force but I was scared to interview people with a disability. I thought they would beat me or something.”
Twenty years on, the Scot laughs at the absurdity of his initial reaction but believes employers might still have similar irrational fears and is now training job coaches in Malta to help disadvantaged people find work.
The 15-month project by the Malta Association of Supported Employment group aims to provide help to those who have failed to be assisted by similar pro-gammes. And EU statistics show the challenge Evans and his team face.
While the employment rate of people with disabilities in Malta is rising – from 42.5 per cent in 2018 compared with 25.8 per cent in 2015 – it still remains one of the lowest in the EU zone, where the average is 50.8 per cent.
For women with disabilities, the numbers are even worse. Just 31.3 per cent have a job, compared to 53.7 per cent of men with a disability.
An EU country report published earlier this year said that while employment initiatives were helping, such as a two per cent workforce quota introduced by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana, the pandemic stalled efforts and many people with a disability lost their jobs.
Evans, a former president of the European Union of Supported Employment, was in Malta recently to train leaders and coaches in the project called Developing the Potential and Skills of Vulnerable Persons.
He said that one of the biggest challenges is having people come forward to search for a job.
Lack of workplace accessibility compounds the problem
“I got to know that these people are battling against the odds and it is not a level playing field. They are being discriminated against,” he says.
One of the project leaders, Marthese Mugliette, who heads the Malta Association of Supported Employment, says students with disabilities are not being prepared to find a job.
“There is a gap. We have lots of people with disabilities making it through the education system, but they do not know what work is,” she said.
Mugliette, who is also president of the Malta Federation of Organisations Persons with Disability, has long been calling for changes to Malta’s education system to address this.
Evans believes that one way of plugging the gap is offering job placements that would allow job seekers to spend some weeks in different jobs until they figure out what they can do and learn about the working world.
A February 2021 EU report on disability equality in Malta pointed out that low employment rate “may be attributed to the low level of qualifications and education attainment” by those with disabilities.
Lack of workplace accessibility compounds the problem, it said. This was backed by a study, published in March, which showed that the majority of people with disabilities have never participated in employment training schemes that can boost their chances of finding and retaining a job.
It showed that out of 336 people with disabilities interviewed, 61.3 per cent are in employment but of these, 55.3 per cent never had any form of job training.
When it came to those unemployed, 62.3 per cent never had job training, even though 59.2 per cent would be willing to participate in a job training scheme.
The study showed 41.5 per cent of unemployed respondents were actively looking for a job.