3 March 2021 Share

diversity eMagazine inclusion

Work inclusion: knowing we are all different increases competitive potential

Can we still accept that in-clusion is often replaced by re-clusion? It is not just a matter of ethics: acknowledging that each worker has a potential value for the company becomes a lever for configuring increasingly competitive production systems.


Guido J.L. Micheli, Associate Professor of Industrial Plants Engineering and Management
School of Management Politecnico di Milano

In everything, there are minimum time periods necessary for an evolution to start having an effect. In our Country, the constitution states that Italy is a “Republic […] founded on labour”; however, it is only in the last few decades that the problem of job inclusion of disabled workers, who – except in very rare cases – do not have the “standard” characteristics that companies look for in their employees, has begun to be addressed in some way.

To put it simply, the process is currently moving on two fronts. On the one hand, a large number of companies are obliged by law to employ disabled workers; on the other hand, there are companies (type B social cooperatives) whose ultimate aim is to prepare disabled people (also called “disadvantaged” in this case) for work. In the large number of companies that are obliged to employ disabled staff, the very frequent outcome is either the hiring of a person who is then “isolated” in tasks of little value to the company itself (in other words, hired but not included) or the deliberate choice to pay the penalties attached to not hiring, which are considered paradoxically “sustainable” when compared with the burden of managing a person considered of little value.
Why is this? The motivation is, after all, quite simple: companies are used to and want to continue working in situations where every activity, machine, equipment, place, process is designed for “standard” people. Every difference is experienced as a source of inefficiency.

It is undoubtedly true that the initial and continuous training of disabled workers is in some cases significantly higher, but why? One of the answers is easily identifiable: the effort in training/preparing disabled workers for any job task is linked to the very purpose of such training, i.e., to provide them with the same skills as non-disabled workers. In other words, even the training that companies design and implement is not inclusive, but rather aimed at bringing disabled workers into line with others.

What should be done to change the status quo?

A profound cultural change is needed. Companies need to critically study their processes, in order to identify those aspects of them that can be carried out with “different” characteristics; by doing so, these “different characteristics” no longer require an effort to be adapted and included, but become naturally functional, and therefore naturally included.

This type of analysis is what social co-operatives (manufacturing or agricultural companies in the true sense of the word, which primarily employ disabled workers) must undertake on a daily basis in order to understand, for example, how an assembly process can be “subdivided and supported” in order to be efficiently and effectively carried out by a wide range of disabled workers.

This focus on processes has the secondary effect of simplifying them, and therefore reducing errors, which translates into a reduction in waste and an overall increase in efficiency.
So, being aware that everyone in the company is “different” can become an important lever for change: every activity, machine, equipment, place, process, which used to be designed for “standard” people, can finally be designed in an worker-centric and non-standard-centric way.

What is the point of the flexibility of the components of production systems (machines, lines, roles, …), which has been much sought after in recent decades, if it is not then used on an ongoing basis to review processes and tasks in the search for an ever better overall system configuration? If this were the approach, inclusion would no longer be sought as such.
We are realising that inclusion cannot be forced: if it is imposed, as is the legislative approach, it turns into reclusion in many cases. Instead, acknowledging that each worker has her/his own potential value for the company becomes a lever to configure production systems and make them increasingly competitive.

After all, who among us has never thought “I have the right person in mind for this”? It is simply a matter of starting to acknowledge the individual strengths of all people – including those with disabilities.
Let’s start here. And let’s not close our eyes: some companies already do!


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