People with Disabilities: An Underutilized and Growing Talent Pool

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 low or no vision or hearing, 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.

people with disabilitiesI 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 job seekers with a wide and diverse range of education, degrees, professional certifications, work experience and skills.

Talent with disabilities bring 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 Are A Large and Growing Market

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 $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.

An Opportunity for Employers to Lead in Talent and Market

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 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% 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% and 28% higher rates of voluntary “self-disclosure” among job seekers 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 including:

  • 35% Women
  • 21% Veterans
  • 19% Hispanic
  • 36% White
  • 42% Black

Case Study #1:  PepsiCo

Talent need.  Our team, Disability Solutions, worked together with PepsiCo to design, build and launch Pepsi ACT (Achieving Change Together) with the goal of hiring talent with disabilities including veterans across the country to meet their workforce needs.  Developed as a national model for next-generation hiring practices, ACT has since become a part of their overall talent strategy.  Filling job opportunities across all career and experience levels, to date, the ACT model has been implemented across nine U.S. cities including a call center serving two business lines in North Carolina, including outgoing sales calls and inbound customer services calls.

The approach. To achieve business results, we start with our discovery process to understand the business needs.  This includes 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, state workforce agencies, community organizations who provide services to people with disabilities, and college campuses.  The Pepsi ACT talent brand was an important piece of the outreach and hiring efforts reaching beyond community partners to reach job seekers directly through word of mouth, social media and other organic communication within the community.

Pepsi disabilitiesThe results:

  • Hires through ACT was the single largest source of call center hires (23%)
  • Decreased the “Interview: Hire Ratio” by 50%
  • 42 hires (23%) with disabilities of 180 total hires within the first year. Hiring continues today as an embedded part of the overall talent strategy.
  • 91% retention
  • HR Leaders internally lifted and shifted model to additional call center sites;
  • A national “best practice” visit from then Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez (pictured right with Tammy Smith, the first employee hired via PepsiACT)

Case Study #2: Synchrony Financial

 Talent need.  Synchrony Financial (SYF) operates a large operations center employing over 1900 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 Persons with Disability and VETS employee Networks together with Human Resources, Synchrony considered factors such as a variety of roles, 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:  Employees, leadership and community organizations participated in focus groups and individual interviews and the input gathered was included in the discovery process.  A strategic playbook was developed to outline the steps for a pilot and other key recommendations.

  • Talent partnerships were developed throughout the community to build a recruiting pipeline, targeted advertising directly attracted job seekers with disabilities, and opportunities were posted on the Disability Solutions Career Center, a national job board focused on attracting talent with disabilities. Job seeker referrals came from a mix of partnerships including veteran’s groups, non-profit organizations, local colleges, and direct advertising
  • Leadership, hiring managers and HR teams received training
  • The model was piloted, refined and measured, and readied for expansion across the organization
  • Synchrony and Disability Solutions hosted “soft skills trainings” together with community partners to prepare job seekers and to communicate information about available roles, qualifications, and work culture

The results:

  • Exceeded pilot goal of hiring 45 employees with disabilities to meet their annual hiring needs, with 60 employees with a disability hired over 12 months
  • Above average retention in first year
  • Expanded to second operation center in Arizona, and soon to be across 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

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?

Kris Foss Kris Foss is the Managing Director of Disability Solutions at Ability Beyond.  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 to successfully fill talent gaps by attracting a historically under tapped talent pool – people with disabilities.  Connect with Disability Solutions on LinkedIn  and Twitter. You can also find Kris on LinkedIn or contact her at 203-948-2338.