I believe that the key to disability inclusion is through the labour market. One technology company is leading the way in inclusive hiring, and has nearly twenty years of success in providing meaningful employment opportunities and training to people with disabilities.
The Norwegian company Telenor is among the world’s major mobile operators with more than 170 million customers in 13 countries, in Scandinavia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Asia. Telenor Open Mind is a Supported Employment Programme within Telenor. Working from the Group’s headquarters in Oslo, participants have the chance to learn new technical skills, showcase their unique abilities and gain the confidence to work in a leading tech company. Telenor launched this programme in 1996, and so far more than 200 people have completed it. Approximately 75 per cent obtained a job after completing the programme.
Telenor established this programme because we want to recruit from the entire population and we believe that technology provides an opportunity to include people with a range of abilities. Today, the Telenor Open Mind programme in Norway has been extended to two programmes: one for people with disabilities and the other – Telenor Integration – is the latest one for non-Western immigrants with a higher education. Our ambition is to have Open Mind programmes in all 13 countries where Telenor is currently operating.
The Open Mind programme is based on the principle of establishing a win-win-win situation. This means that the company wins because it gets access to motivated, loyal and qualified workers; the participants win because they get a unique opportunity to show their efforts and abilities to potential employers; and the third winner is society at large, because the participants go from receiving pensions to becoming taxpayers when they enter the job market.
Integrating persons with disabilities into a knowledge-based economy requires companies to include training programmes, such as the Telenor Open Mind Programme, to actively and effectively include diverse hiring practices and to actively include people with different abilities into their workforce.
The programme consists of three training courses that start every year with a maximum of six people each time. After applying via the official website, applicants go through a job interview like everyone else in Telenor. Based on those interviews we choose which candidates will enter the programme.
In addition to the valuable technical skills offered during the programme, participants also learn to believe in themselves. My experience is that it is common for people with disabilities to believe that they cannot work because a lot of them never have. It is therefore an important aspect to the programme that, in addition to learning technical skills, participants also need to believe that they are capable of replicating them in a professional environment and on equal footing with their peers.
Following the training module, participants then receive on-the-job training for a 22-month period within Telenor. Many of the participants tell me that they would like to continue in a regular job within Telenor after the end of their work placement. This is why it is important that Telenor continues to reach out to other companies to accept participants from our programme. The fact is that the only alternative to obtaining a job is to go back to receiving financial support from the Norwegian Welfare and Labour organization.
One example that I am particularly proud of is the Open Mind programme in Telenor Pakistan. The programme started in 2013, and is based on the Open Mind programme in Norway. However, there are some differences as the Pakistani welfare society is not as mature and transparent as the Norwegian one. For this reason, the Open Mind programme in Pakistan is shaped as a trainee programme with eight participants. Each of these eight participants obtains a one-year trainee position in one of Telenor Pakistan’s divisions. The Open Mind programme in Telenor Pakistan is currently working with their second batch.
Open Mind’s slogan is “Good attitudes are built through action”, and by this we mean that attitudes are changed by systematic work, and we believe strongly that this model could and should be replicated in other tech companies.
My wish for ITU is to continue to encourage ICT companies and Sector Members to introduce hiring and training programmes for people with disabilities. In my company, Telenor, we have found that the Open Mind programme reflects our commitment to inclusion and goes a long way in advancing opportunities through ICTs for all in society.
Note from ITU: Visit www.itu.int/accessibility for additional information on ITU’s activities on ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities.
Ingrid Ihme started working in Telenor in 1996. She is Director of the Telenor Open Mind Programme, which provides people with disabilities the possibility to develop their career skills in a professional working environment. The main objective of the Open Mind Programme is to gain access to the most competent workforce. We believe that we cannot get access to the most qualified workers by choosing from only two-thirds of the population. We want to choose among the best. Telenor is now spreading the Open Mind concept to its own operation in Europe and Asia. Ingrid has for 8 years been member of the Norwegian State Council on Disability. Before starting in Telenor, Ingrid studied History of Ideas and History of Religion at the University of Oslo.