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The path to access and inclusivity with Jacobs' Stuart Wilson

Category: Accessibility & Inclusion, Equal opportunities, Deaf Inclusion, British Sign Language (BSL), Access to Work, BSL interpreter, deaf people

Image of Stuart Wilson and a Jacobs J

Stuart Wilson, a Glasgow-based engineer for Jacobs, shares his story about a varied career and the importance of accessibility for deaf employees.

 

I have worked at Jacobs as a senior engineer since 2017. My work is extremely varied – I am based in Glasgow and work on some major Scottish road projects, such as finding ways to prevent landslides on the A83 Rest and Be Thankful road, as well as international projects, such as KiwiRail in New Zealand, as well as collaborating with resource teams in India and Poland.   

A big part of my role is using 3D modelling software – after some career challenges around the time of the credit crunch and global financial crisis, my knowledge of this sort of software really helped me get the job with Jacobs. Before then, my career took many different turns, but they all led me to where I am today. 

 

My career before the crashIn 1999, I graduated from Coventry University with a higher national diploma in civil engineering and started working as a land surveyor in Ipswich and then a CAD (computer-assisted design) technician in Essex, where I spent six years before deciding it was time for a change. In 2006, I moved to London, where I worked as a civil technician – I was able to double my salary, so times were good. But around 2008, things became more challenging. 

My wife, Rachel, and I booked round-the-world tickets before the global economic problems started – we wanted to go travelling before we had kids. I was working for Buro Happold at the time and they were struggling to find new projects or finances, so they started offering voluntary redundancies. I jumped on a nice, big voluntary redundancy package because we were planning on going travelling anyway, and I knew that taking this package would save one of my colleague’s jobs. During our year away, we travelled to countries across Asia and South America, and visited my wife’s family in Sydney. 

 

 

A reality check after the gap year
It was a great gap year, but when we returned to the UK, I struggled to find work. After six months, I ended up working in telecommunications as a billing administrator – it was not my dream job, but I needed the money. I was spending a lot of time working in spreadsheets while looking for a civil engineering role. Those jobs were like gold dust at the time, with jobs attracting 250 applicants – then, after working at the telecommunications company for two years, the telecommunications company went bankrupt and I was let go with 45 minutes’ notice.

My wife was pregnant and we were applying for a mortgage, so I needed to take any job I could. I was lucky that the civil engineering market was recovering and I was so relieved when I got a rolling contract as a CAD technician after two months of job applications and interviews. After three-and-a-half years, I was back! 

After working for five months in the new job, I worked for Hampshire Council after making 400 contacts through LinkedIn. I was looking for a permanent role that was closer to home and my self-taught BIM modelling skills were in demand. Suddenly, it was easy to get a job again. 

I asked former colleagues via LinkedIn about job vacancies and shared my CV with them. One ex-colleague got me an interview with WSP and after an interview that was more like a casual, 15-minute chat, I was offered the job on the spot. My computer design and BIM modelling skills got me over the line.

 

Getting the right support in Scotland
I was on the move again after asking for a transfer to WSP’s Glasgow office as a highways engineer. This move was about a new lifestyle for my family – we love Scotland so much and I wanted my children to have access to the Highlands. Then I started at Jacobs in 2017, where I am to this day. My career path seems like it took a lot of twists and turns, but with the skills I picked up along the way, it is quite a direct path.

Thanks to the opportunities, variety in the job, and support I receive as a deaf employee at Jacobs, I plan to stay here for a long time. I have been working from home for two years now and this has really worked for me and my family. I have been able to spend a lot more time at home with our children, which is so valuable for all of us, especially when it comes to learning British Sign Language (BSL) and English. My children are educated at home, so my wife already spends a lot of time with them at home, taking them to different activities, and when she meets up with the home education group. 

When I started working from home, I got to spend more time with our children and their BSL skills improved enormously. Flexible working hours are hugely beneficial for me because I can fit my working hours around my family life. I get to take the children to activities, such as gymnastics, and get more involved with the home education group during the week.

 

Applying for jobs and working as a deaf person
One thing I have learned from applying for jobs and going to so many interviews as a deaf person is that it is best to let your skills and experience do the talking. You do not need to mention a disability on your CV. A good employer will have processes in place to make reasonable adjustments should you get to the interview stage.

If disabled people, as well as employers, can navigate the recruitment process inclusively, it levels the playing field.

I’ve had at least 30 job interviews over 20 years and about 90% were very stressful. It is not unusual to be offered interviews at short notice or in short time slots. This makes it hard to find a BSL interpreter in time and doesn’t leave enough time for a proper conversation via an interpreter during the interview. Many interpreters need at least two weeks’ notice and applicants often need to contact Access to Work to obtain funding for the interpreter. Employers need to be aware of these considerations for deaf applicants.

On one occasion, I turned up for the interview and found out that my recruitment agency had been told the interview was cancelled, but the agency didn’t let me know in time. The interviewer was not aware of my deafness, so there were no grounds for discrimination. I’ve heard similar stories from deaf friends.  

 

It is important for employers to be patient with deaf candidates and appropriate BSL interpreters who are familiar with industry jargon need to be hired. If employers are unsure about how to manage interviews with deaf candidates, they need to receive advice from HR or appropriate networks.  

My Jacobs interview in 2017 went really well. I told them in advance that I was deaf and I would provide an interpreter who I already knew. This took the stress out of the process and it helped me get to where I am today.

Employers who accommodate deaf people in the recruitment process give us more confidence to declare our disability without worrying about discrimination. We need more time to arrange interpreters if they are unable to do so themselves. In my case, employers can ask for my preferred interpreters or interpreting agency and cover the costs themselves, or get in touch with Access to Work to obtain funding. Taking these steps demonstrates a positive, inclusive, equality-focused attitude to disability from employers, making their organisations more attractive to deaf candidates.

 

I am the only deaf employee at Jacobs’ Glasgow office. The Department of Work and Pensions’ Access to Work programme has been fantastic – it funds ways for employers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people in the workplace. For me, this means an iPad for remote interpreting via video. I receive around 25 to 28 hours a week in BSL interpreter support. There is a pool of interpreters I use and they all understand engineering jargon, which makes it easier to communicate with people.

Before Covid, the interpreters would come into the office, but now they assist me via video conferencing. Some colleagues found communicating via an interpreter a bit awkward at first, but people get used to the process, so it becomes a normal part of going to work. Interpreters are part of the project team as colleagues become more comfortable with them. That’s the gold standard – to be just another colleague.

 

Lessons for employers everywhere
During my time at Jacobs, I have led deafness awareness training for my colleagues. I would urge all employers to do this as it makes such a difference when working with deaf people. Jacobs has been very open in its desire to support me, which sets an example to other companies. There is government funding available to help employers, so HR departments should be aware of this.

Since I’ve started at Jacobs, an employee network called ACE – which stands for Access, Connected and Empowered – has been set up to connect and empower members of staff across the globe who live with disability. Through my involvement with ACE, I have connected with our offices in Australia and Ireland and advised colleagues about how best to support new deaf employees and accommodate any adjustments required.  The network is a great thing for the company and its people.

Many deaf people have not been as fortunate as I have in the workplace and it is difficult to deal with discrimination. In recent years, there have been improvements in attitudes towards disability and greater awareness of the need for diversity and inclusion, but there is always room for more education, especially about access needs. 

Support for disabled people needs to be normalised across companies so that we are normalised as employees. I can be very assertive and I know my job well, so I know I am an asset to the company.

black and white image of a white male. Photo credit Scott Campbell

Stuart Wilson - Photo credit: Scott Campbell

 

 

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Jacobs are a Diversity Confident Employer and as such we commit to the following:

  • Support our wider diversity and inclusion work
  • Improve how we attract, recruit and retain disabled workers
  • Challenge attitudes towards disability, increase understanding, remove barriers and ensure people with disabilities have opportunity to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations.
  • Offer interviews to individuals who declare they are disabled and meet the minimum criteria for the job

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