Nick von Behr, Contributor
Barriers still exist for disabled graduates looking for jobs in STEM. How can we bridge the gap?
Earlier this month, the STEM Disability Transition Group, of which I am a member, organised a conference about in and out of university transitions for disabled students in the STEM subjects.
The conference was a great success, bringing together a range of delegates from the English university sector, other parts of the education system and employment. Many mentioned how useful it was for them to be able to engage face-to-face on shared issues around supporting disabled students in the STEM subjects.
There were fascinating speakers, including two STEM graduates who explained in a very personal way the obstacles they had to overcome at university and in accessing employment because of their particular disabilities. An official from the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) explained the Government’s forthcoming employment strategy for the disabled. One shocking statistic was that the employment rate for people with mental health conditions is as low as 15%. While higher levels of qualifications increase the employability of disabled people, there are still significant gaps a few years after graduation between their employment rates and those of the non-disabled.
The conference included a number of workshops focusing on STEM transitions from school/college to university, within university, and from university to employment. As organisers we were very encouraged by the level of interest from the employment and university sectors in what happens earlier on in the education system. This needs to be nurtured from all sides. Anecdotally, we were all made aware of individuals who find it difficult to adapt their teaching and tutoring support styles to the needs of the disadvantaged. Doing this actually produces benefits for all their students.
The Higher Education workshop used data collated from four UK universities (Imperial College London, Kingston University, Royal Holloway University of London and the University of Greenwich) to look at possible ways to overcome barriers. Suggestions included more one-to-one support through study skills, mentoring and contact with an individual member of staff, as well as receiving teaching materials well in advance and in an easily accessible format. Despite the barriers, the vast majority of the 85 disabled university students who responded to the survey were still planning to continue with a STEM career.
Elsewhere, in the employment-focused workshop, delegates were asked to consider possible adjustments that could be made for disabled graduates. Examples ranged from support at interview stage to ongoing in-work support, including awareness training for manager colleagues and providing a tailored breakdown and structure of the working day and key tasks undertaken.
The conference made me realise even more that disabled young people deserve as much opportunity to progress as anyone else in our society.
So let’s make sure we give it to them.
Nick von Behr is an education knowledge broker at behr outcomes.