Surrey – broadening a partnership agenda around ‘hidden talent’

Although the existing Surrey survey data was a useful tool, the arguments benefited from being broadened out to encompass evidence and examples from beyond Surrey to demonstrate to new partners the economic benefits of employing hidden talent and that this is not just a local agenda but part of a larger set of issues being recognised and championed globally by both small and large employers.


Background

One of the priorities of Surrey County Council’s Employment and Skills Board is to develop local solutions to help Surrey employers meet skills gaps by engaging with ‘hidden talent’ – workers who can make a valuable contribution but face barriers to employment e.g. care leavers and people with physical and cognitive disabilities. This agenda has been championed by one of the board partners, the CEO of a county-wide youth charity. This charity has undertaken a survey of employer views which has become a key tool for growing this agenda. The survey showed that most firms employing people with learning disabilities believed it was making their business a better place to work and was also good for external relationships with customers and stakeholders.


The approach they are taking

The lead officer supporting the employment and skills board is now seeking to broaden support for the ‘hidden talent’ agenda among more of the county’s employers and go beyond ‘doing their bit’ or ‘giving back’ to a route to business advantage in its own right.

The goal is for more Surrey employers to understand the contribution of hidden talent and for that to be reflected in their recruitment and operations.

The employment and skills board therefore decided it would be useful to gather evidence and best practice from beyond the county, of companies proactively recruiting hidden talent to achieve competitive advantage.

The board also decided to narrow the focus specifically to workers with cognitive disabilities and their role in the service and knowledge economy sectors – to fit with a specific area within Surrey’s economy which is seeing increasing skills shortages. This part of the agenda – often referred to as ‘neurodiversity’ – has received increasing attention especially since the publication by UK music publisher Universal Music in early 2020 of “Creative Differences: a handbook for embracing neurodiversity in the creative industries”[1].

As part of the support provided to Surrey through the LGA support programme, Shared Intelligence undertook a rapid literature review dealing with cognitive disabilities and employment to illustrate the commercial and competitive benefits of building neuro-diverse teams. The research found evidence of the economic potential of hidden talent groups from the perspective of employers, in a language which was compelling to employers and focused on the contribution of hidden talent as an asset.

The results of the literature review supported many of the findings from Surrey’s original employer survey: that businesses gave performance, productivity, customer satisfaction, attendance and retention as the highest-rated reasons for employing staff with cognitive disabilities, and that they also contributed positively to an organisation’s public image. The literature review also found evidence of net savings to the public purse and society, when more people with cognitive disabilities were employed.

Building from this literature review, an accessible slide-deck was created for the Surrey employment and skills board to use to broker new conversations with employers and build support for the hidden talent agenda.

The slide-deck summarises the literature to demonstrate there is depth of evidence underpinning the hidden talent agenda, but also highlights practical examples of major firms who have actively sought to build neuro-diverse workforces because of the business advantages this provides.


Learning

Key to Surrey’s promotion of this agenda has been the partnership between the Surrey Employment and Skills Board members and a lead officer with a shared view of the potential of hidden talent. Between them, they have identified a compelling challenge which can be clearly articulated, and which fits with the specific shape and needs of the Surrey economy.

Although the existing Surrey survey data was a useful tool, the arguments benefited from being broadened out to encompass evidence and examples from beyond Surrey to demonstrate to new partners the economic benefits of employing hidden talent and that this is not just a local agenda but part of a larger set of issues being recognised and championed globally by both small and large employers.

This particular set of issues around hidden talent is an important example which shows how economic inclusivity needs to be considered more widely and beyond opportunities within low-wage roles or those requiring low qualifications.