Nearly 40% 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 and accessible a company may be, represent another $8 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. Ranging across industries and business lines, our clients include some familiar brands such as PepsiCo, Synchrony, American Express, Aon, Staples and Aramark. 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% higher retention rate in the same roles;
- 33% 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;
Diversity within Disability
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. By attracting, hiring and promoting talent with disabilities, we are also including their whole selves, disability only being a piece of who someone is. For example, across our client base, employees with disabilities who have been hired cut across several areas of EEO reporting: 35% Women, 21% Veterans, 19% Hispanic, 36% White, 42% Black.
Talent need. Synchrony (SYF) operates a large operations center employing over 1,900 employees in Ohio, housing a variety of business lines and roles including both B2B and B2C customer card services. When considering a location to pilot a hiring initiative spearheaded by their People with Disabilities and Veterans employee Networks together with Human Resources, Synchrony considered factors such as a variety of roles with open opportunities, business line growth and projected talent need, leadership commitment and regional talent resources. Due to growth and business need, the decision was made to begin by focusing on Customer Service and Inbound Fraud Representative roles.
The approach: To achieve business results, we started with our discovery process to understand the business needs and inform our strategic playbook. This included job qualifications, work environment (including a “day in the life” analysis), business goals and objectives, and the application process. Although systems, policies and procedures are not the sexiest topics, they are extremely important to identifying often easy-to-fix barriers to jobseekers getting interviewed and hired.
Based on discovery learnings, hiring managers and HR were prepared through training and best practice discussions, and we then began outreach together with HR site leaders to build talent partnerships on their behalf. Talent partners included veteran’s groups, college and universities, state workforce agencies, community organizations who provide services to employees, leadership and community organizations participated in focus groups and individual interviews and the input gathered was included in the discovery process. The Synchrony talent brand was an important piece of the outreach and hiring efforts reaching beyond community partners to reach jobseekers directly through word of mouth, social media and other organic communication within the community.
The resulting strategic playbook outlined the steps for a pilot and other key recommendations. The first step was cultivating talent partnerships throughout the community to build a recruiting pipeline. Jobseeker referrals came from a mix of partnerships including veteran’s groups, non-profit organizations and local colleges. We also attracted jobseekers with disabilities with targeted advertising and opportunities were posted on the Disability Solutions national Career Center job board. The Career Center is a nation-wide free resource for job seekers with disabilities.
Once candidates were identified, Synchrony and Disability Solutions hosted “soft skills training” together with community partners to prepare jobseekers and to communicate information about available roles, qualifications, and work culture.
We then provided leadership, hiring managers and HR teams with training. Once the model was piloted, refined and measured, we readied it for expansion across the organization.
- Exceeded initial pilot goal of hiring 45 employees with disabilities to meet their annual hiring needs, with 60 employees with a disability hired over 12 months, and as of May 2018 have hired a total of 76 at pilot site in Ohio.
- Above average retention in first year reported.
- Expanded to a second operation center in Arizona where 28 people with disabilities have since been hired, including 5 work from home opportunities, and recently expanded to Orlando, and currently across the organization and throughout a variety of business lines.
- Their best practices were shared nationally through the CEO Action initiative – a commitment to diversity by CEOs.
Pilots offer a unique opportunity to learn while testing and validating. A crucial key to success is to find 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. Don’t forget to ask how your brand is perceived by talent with disabilities. While talent partnerships are an important part of the recruiting strategy, direct outreach and the reputation you develop by taking real hiring action with the talent pool is how you will reach job seekers directly.
When creating a disability hiring strategy, make sure that it aligns with your organization’s business priorities and systems. Don’t be afraid to make changes, but don’t “reinvent the wheel” either. Don’t worry about getting it perfect before starting. Just follow your plan, know that mistakes might happen, and learn from them.
To make the process easier, leverage experts. Our team understands both the talent market and business needs. Find an experienced consultant who understands both and can bring that perspective to your team.
Growing Talent Competition
As the competition for top talent increases, leading companies are searching for new and valuable talent pools. Those taking action in reaching talent with disabilities are recognizing measurable and meaningful business outcomes. What type of jobs can a person with a disability do? What have you got?
About the Author: Kris Foss is the Managing Director of Disability Solutions, the consulting division of nonprofit Ability Beyond. Disability Solutions is changing minds and changing lives by creating customized plans for companies to strengthen their workforce by hiring and retaining talent with disabilities. Their consultants have partnered with top companies on end-to-end talent acquisition, retention strategies and solutions resulting in people and business driven outcomes..
You can find Kris on Linked in linkedin.com/in/krisfossdisabilitysolutions or contact Kris Foss at 203-948-2338.