Deepak Sonawane, 33, joined Eureka Forbes as customer relationship executive in 2011. In some ways, Sonawane is a typical BPO employee -- he works five days a week, spends up to eight hours a day. But he is different in one way - he is differently-abled.
“My career started as a data-entry operator. I happened to know about a call centre that was looking for 100’s of physically-challenged people,” said Sonawaner. “I was given a chance to talk to people from outside, which made me more confident. I was also motivated by my leaders to complete my graduation.”
Sonawane is one among many differently-abled workers who reflect a growing trend —companies are hiring employees with special needs for reasons varying from corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative to tapping a large and loyal talent pool.
“The call centre initially began with a small number of 35 differently-abled employees in April 2011, and has now grown to a full-fledged professional organisation of about 105 highly-talented and confident individuals. In the next two years, the company plans to increase this number up to 500 employees for the outbound process,” said a spokesperson at Eureka Forbes.
Rahul Shinde, managing director, KFC India, a fast food restaurant chain, claimed that differently-abled employees will soon constitute 10% of the total workforce, which stands at 11,000 at present. The total number of disabled employees currently stands at 350.
Amazon’s development centre in Chennai has also hired staffers who are visually impaired.
Companies such as Tata Steel, KFC, Eureka Forbes, Flex, IBM, Hindustan Unilever, Amazon, RPG Group and Wave group, are planning to increase the strength of disabled employees this year. The kind of disabilities includes partial blindness, partial physically handicapped, polio and hearing impairment. Though call centres are the most feasible option, the companies are also hiring workers across functions such as in finance, global procurement, supply chain, engineering and quality, and human resources.
A recent UN report revealed that India is home to over 100 million disabled citizens. However, only 1,00,000 of them are successful in obtaining employment.
“Moreover, at present the job market is facing high attrition, scarcity of qualified talent and a dis-engaged workforce. To tackle this, several companies are now actively sourcing and hiring non-conventional talent such as persons with disabilities, who are more loyal and committed towards the organisations,” said Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder, Teamlease Services, a staffing firm.
However, along with the hiring of differently-abled comes a responsibility of investing in their comfort, convenience and sensitisation of co-workers. And, the companies are not shying away from investing.
For instance, the workstations at several such organisations are a foot longer than the standard, the desks are three-foot long, and have enough space all around to allow easy access for people with wheelchairs and crutches. The desktop computers have also been specially designed to make all the controls easily accessible.
In addition to the infrastructure, transportation facilities for pick and drop are also provided to the employees in most of these organisations.
“We have built infrastructure such as ramps, toilets, parking areas, computer and other accessories as per the requirements of specially-abled workers,” said a spokesperson at Tata Steel, which currently employs over 100 employees with special needs, just 0.3% of the total workforce. “We are setting a target of recruiting 100 such assets every year, if not more.”
The companies are also investing in organising motivational workshops and training for these employees to make employment contracts meaningful for them. For instance, staffers hired at Flex, an American electronics maker, have to undergo a one-month training programme under the guidnace of a trainer well-versed in sign language.
“We are hiring such employees across functions, on the manufacturing side as well, we are also planning to hire additional 40-50 specially-abled employees,” said the spokesperson of Flex.