November 27, 2017
Other Voices

Hiring people with disabilities can help fill jobs gap

Kris Foss

Nearly 40 percent of employers are having challenges hiring qualified employees, while at the same time one in five people in the United States have some type of disability and are facing challenges in getting hired.

Some disabilities are visible, such as physical disabilities, and some are hidden, including mental health conditions, medical conditions, learning and cognitive disabilities. We also have a large population "aging into disability" for the first time and veterans with disabilities returning to the civilian workforce.

I am often asked about the types of jobs a person with a disability can do and my answer is always the same — "What do you have?" The reality is that the talent pool of people with disabilities remains underutilized, even though it includes jobseekers with a wide and diverse range of education, degrees, professional certifications, work experience and skills.

Talent with disabilities brings alternative perspectives to getting a job done, to solving a problem, and to reaching a goal. It is this unique perspective and life experiences that can contribute innovative ideas, processes and market reach.

People with disabilities in the United States alone represent an annual spending power of $645 billion, and their friends and families — those who would make spending decisions based on how inclusive a company may be — represent another $4 trillion in annual spending, according to the Return on Disability Group. This is both a talent and customer market that businesses want to engage. When your employees can give you a unique lens to a customer market they can inform advertising, product development, customer service and more.

Hiring people with disabilities is not about charity, but about smart business. Among companies that hire people with disabilities are some familiar brands such as PepsiCo, Synchrony Financial, American Express, Aon and Staples. These companies and others are taking action in hiring people with disabilities to meet their talent needs across the board and seeing real business results including key HR metrics:

• An average 14 percent higher retention rate in the same roles;

• 33 percent decrease in interview-to-hire ratios, saving talent acquisition professionals valuable time while decreasing time to fill;

• 53 points and 28 points higher rates of voluntary "self-disclosure" among jobseekers with disabilities and veteran's respectively — important compliance results for government contractors and reflecting a positive and inclusive corporate culture.

All of us have many roles in life both in our work and personal lives and bring our varied backgrounds, upbringing, culture and prior experiences to the table. People with disabilities are no different and cut across all dimensions of diversity.

There are certain steps companies should take if they'd like to hire people with disabilities. They include:

1) Finding the right talent partners. There are many organizations out there and it helps to have assistance in finding partners who will work with you to understand your business needs, and can provide solid and consistent talent referrals. Host events, talk to the community, or work with experts who know the talent field.

2) Have a strategy that aligns with your organization's business priorities and systems. Don't be afraid to make changes, but don't "reinvent the wheel" either.

3) Don't worry about getting it "perfect" before starting. Follow your plan, know that mistakes might happen, and learn from them.

4) Find experts who understand both and can bring that perspective to your team.

As competition for top talent increases, companies recruiting people with disabilities are recognizing measurable business outcomes.

Kris Foss is the managing director of disability solutions at Ability Beyond, a Bethel-based nonprofit that helps companies create plans for hiring and retaining talent with disabilities.

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