Lauren Brown: Employers should tap into a well of creative ideas from a diverse workforce

One of my genuine wishes for 2018 is that Scotland can ably demonstrate to the world what a wonderfully rich and diverse workforce we have. We will show how we can positively ­transcend individuals' perceived barriers, break down prejudices and have a 100 per cent focus on equality in the workplace.

Employers can reap the benefit of a diverse workforce
Employers can reap the benefit of a diverse workforce

I would encourage employers to see the far-reaching benefits of offering job opportunities to young, ­vulnerable and disadvantaged people who might otherwise have been considered socially excluded. As an employer which has recruited ­individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, and supported other businesses to do so, I have seen first-hand the advantages of embracing diversity in the workplace.

Emerging talent bringing countless benefits to a business will come from those who are given the opportunity to shine. Employing young ­people from a range of backgrounds can have a real and significant impact on the culture and sense of engagement within the workforce too. After all, these young people represent a vast and potentially untapped source of talent for employers.

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This is why a key focus for the Developing the Young Workforce Regional Groups in 2018 is workplace equality. In West Lothian, we have embarked on a working partnership with the equalities team at Skills Development Scotland (SDS) to help champion and support the work they are doing in areas such as Black Minority Ethnic community care, young people with disabilities, care-experienced young people and increased gender ­balance, where there is a strong emphasis of getting more young people from these groups onto modern apprenticeship schemes and other national training programmes – an initiative which we fully support.

Lauren Brown, Project Manager, Developing the Young Workforce West Lothian Regional Group

Michelle Goldenpenny, National Training Programme equality ­executive at Skills Development ­Scotland, believes that the more diverse your workforce is, the more ideas generated and the more problem-solving capability you have.

She said: ‘It comes down to your personal life experiences. Someone with, for example, autism, might perceive the world in a completely different way to someone who does not. However, if you ask both to find a solution to a problem, there are going to be two alternative approaches, because our minds and experiences have taught us to work in different ways. Therefore, the more ­people you have in the work environment with different life experiences, backgrounds and ways of thinking, then the more creative they can be.

“If everyone conforms to a stereotypical workplace environment and employers don’t reach out to a rich and diverse talent pool, you may only ever get one perspective, but when you bring in others from what might be considered ‘outside the normal framework’, you can get a lot more from your workforce.’

SDS recently worked with Applied Arts Scotland to provide a young female apprentice to work in the ­creative arts industry for two small businesses – a jewellery designer and a textile design company. Both were aware that the apprentice had ­challenging health issues, but were happy to employ her. They created a fantastic opportunity for the apprentice, who continues to flourish in her twin roles and both businesses are happy to have her work with them. Her creativity has shone through. We need to see more of this.

Lauren Brown, Project Manager, Developing the Young Workforce West Lothian Regional Group

Last November, the Developing the Young Workforce West Lothian Regional Group worked in collaboration with local partners to run an event for businesses wishing to find out more about becoming a Disability Confident employer. The UK ­Government introduced the scheme in 2013, aiming to ­­get employers to think differently about disability, and to attract, recruit and retain disabled workers.

This is also about challenging the misconceptions of the past and realising the many benefits disabled people can bring to the workplace, which is very much aligned with the approach of SDS for Scotland to employ a rich and diverse workforce.

People transform businesses and jobs transform lives. Developing Young Workforce West Lothian engages with employers, schools, colleges, pupils and parents to address ways of getting young people, regardless of their life journey, into the workplace. I would urge employers, hiring managers and entrepreneurs to take advantage of the support available to diversify their workforce, and to look forward to the benefits it will bring.

Lauren Brown, project manager, Developing the Young Workforce West Lothian Regional Group.