Creating inclusive jobs by community job crafting

Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change

Dr Liz Oliver is a lecturer in Work and Employment Relations, and a member of the Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change. Her research explores aspects of EU and national employment law and policy relating in particular to gender equality, mobility, highly skilled and fixed-term employment.

Portrait photo of Liz Oliver

The employment gap for people with learning disabilities is huge. 5.9% of adults with a learning disability in England are in paid employment according to the latest Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework in England report. It is well known that the exclusion of people with learning disabilities from paid employment is a problem but what to do about it is less clear.

On 23 October 2019 people with learning disabilities, researchers and practitioners came together in Leeds to engage with a new approach to job design called ‘Community job crafting’. It is the outcome of a research project called “Learning by Doing Together” that was funded by Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL).

I co-designed and conducted the project with human rights organisation CHANGE and service provider KeyRing. It used the methods of participatory action research and inclusive research to co-design a job for a person with learning disabilities in the delivery of services used by people with learning disabilities. People with learning disabilities took part at every level of the project.

We describe the process of making the new job as Community job crafting and we hope that other organisations will take it up. The Leeds event was a great opportunity to preview some of our new toolkits and to hear what people think about the potential of Community job crafting.

What is community job crafting?

Community job crafting is not about putting people into posts; it addresses the more challenging feat of creating inclusive jobs and fostering inclusive environments. The idea behind the ‘Learning by Doing Together’ project came from the ‘Our Voices, Our Choices, Our Freedom’ event run by CHANGE in 2014. 100 people with learning disabilities came together to talk about the abuse of power that happened in Winterbourne View.

A key message from the event was “People with learning disabilities MUST be properly employed to work in care settings.” (The idea being that this would address the power imbalances between people with learning disabilities and service provider organisations. Designing new jobs brings with it an alertness to the wider context of services and service provision, the quality of existing jobs and the power dynamics.

“I thought I was going to hear about how to do an inclusive interview” (event participant)

When organisations think about employing people with learning disabilities they often think about how they might need to change their recruitment and selection practices. But the first step is to design a job that fits well and brings out what people have to offer to the organisation. Participants at the Leeds event were asked some deceptively simple questions “what is a job?”, “who is a worker”?

Their reflections on these questions chimed with the thinking underpinning community job crafting; that jobs are not just a collection of tasks, they are shaped by ideas about who workers are, how work is done and what is valuable. They reflected on how very few people with learning disabilities have paid jobs so their strengths are not always seen by employers and jobs don’t fit well.

Designing inclusive jobs together

Job crafting is a term used in academic literature to talk about the way workers change parts of their jobs. It describes people making changes to their tasks that also change what work means to them and how it makes them feel about themselves. We adapted it to describe the way they made a new job with service users. The collaboration made space to think differently about service users and about services. Job crafting is usually done by one person but we added the word ‘community’ because we formed a group of different people who worked together to design the job.

So, what next?

Towards the end of the event everyone reflected on the afternoon. It had been designed to be open, inclusive and fun. We were really pleased when one participant reflected that the activities gave people confidence and connected everyone. Those taking part seemed to enjoy it, people talked about thinking differently and questioning their preconceived ideas. People were keen to know more about Community job crafting, particularly about how it works in practice. They were also keen to network and connect in with each other. The team will be running more events to share other parts of their toolkits.  

A chapter about our project will be part of the Handbook of Disability at Work which is due to be published in the summer: Oliver, L., Carter, C., Stubbs, C and Aiello, A. (forthcoming) Generating interdisciplinary insights to regulate for inclusive employment. In Fielden, S., Moore. M. and Wright, G. eds (forthcoming) Handbook of Disability at Work, Springer International Publishing AG.

A version of this post was published in Community Living 33:2 (2020). We are grateful to the editor for permission to reproduce it here.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Leeds University Business School or the University of Leeds.