The huge untapped potential in Norfolk’s workforce

PUBLISHED: 15:07 28 February 2019 | UPDATED: 15:26 28 February 2019

Matt Brown, a member of staff, at Norfolk Industries. Picture: Norfolk Industries

Matt Brown, a member of staff, at Norfolk Industries. Picture: Norfolk Industries

Norfolk Industries

Bosses at a Norfolk social enterprise believe people with disabilities are an untapped workforce that could bridge the Brexit gap.

With Brexit around the corner, headlines are dominated by manufacturers fearing that their supply lines will stall without migrant workers.

But bosses at Norfolk Industries have said that employing people with physical or mental disabilities, as well as those suffering with their mental health, could bridge that gap.

Sharon Tooke is the general manager of Norfolk Industries, which produces pet bedding and offers a packaging service, with the help of staff and work experience assistance who are largely disabled.

She said: “The thing about working with people who may be on the autistic or Aspergers spectrum is that they like precise, systematic work.

“We do the packing for 
Orchard Toys, and they’ve 
never found an error in our work when they’ve carried out a spot-check.”

Ms Tooke said people who enjoy this sort of work would be suited well to manufacturing lines and packaging.

“There are some drawbacks to the fact our employees can be so precise – it can slow them down. Sometimes you may have to repeat an instruction more than once, but that only takes seconds,” she said.

Norfolk Industries also puts individuals through its Evolve employment experience programme, which teaches people about CV building, interview skills training, as well as life and work skills.

Ms Tooke said: “We’ve had a number of people who come to us for work experience and then come back as employees. We have people that go on to get full-time jobs, people who start volunteering. This is absolutely an untapped workforce which could come into play.”

The CIC business is part of Independence Matters, a county-based social care provider.

“The main problem with 
getting people with disabilities into work is perception. Businesses are all about the money and margins, and see people with disabilities as a hassle,” she said.

She added: “We’ve never had an instance of bad behaviour here, and if employers just took a day to get to know people, the interviewees would really open up.

“If they sit down with them for half an hour, they’re just looking for the right words. They need to take more time to see their potential.”

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